BACKGROUND: Hereditary forms of chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction (CIIP) are well described but the aetiology of most cases of sporadic CIIP is unknown. AIM: To determines whether herpes viruses can persist in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby implicating them in the pathogenesis of CIIP. METHODS: Twenty one specimens of small and large intestine from 13 patients with CIIP (eight visceral myopathy, three visceral neuropathy, two undifferentiated), and 12 patients operated on for colorectal cancer (controls) were examined for evidence of Herpesvirus DNA (cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), herpes simplex virus type 1, and varicella zoster virus) by nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and in situ DNA hybridisation (ISH) to localise signal to the muscularis propria or myenteric plexus. RESULTS: Screening with nested PCR produced three patients with positive results. One patient with an inflammatory visceral neuropathy had EBV detected in the small intestine by PCR, and ISH demonstrated localisation to neurones in the myenteric plexus. A patient with a visceral myopathy had EBV DNA in both the small and large intestine; and one patient with a visceral neuropathy had small intestine positive for CMV DNA (both negative by ISH). No control tissue was positive for any virus. CONCLUSIONS: In individual patients there appears to be evidence linking a viral aetiology to sporadic CIIP. The role of neurotropic viruses in acute and chronic motility disturbances needs further study.
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