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J Virol. 2002 Jul;76(13):6710-7.

Polarized release of human cytomegalovirus from placental trophoblasts.

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  • 1Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, Perinatal Research Centre, University of Alberta, 232 HMRC, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2S2.


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a ubiquitous infectious pathogen that, when transmitted to the fetus in utero, can result in numerous sequelae, including late-onset sensorineural damage. The villous trophoblast, the cellular barrier between maternal blood and fetal tissue in the human placenta, is infected by HCMV in vivo. Primary trophoblasts cultured on impermeable surfaces can be infected by HCMV, but release of progeny virus is delayed and minimal. It is not known whether these epithelial cells when fully polarized can release HCMV and, if so, if release is from the basal membrane surface toward the fetus. We therefore ask whether, and in which direction, progeny virus release occurs from HCMV-infected trophoblasts cultured on semipermeable (3.0-microm-pore-size) membranes that allow functional polarization. We show that infectious HCMV readily diffuses across cell-free 3.0-microm-pore-size membranes and that apical infection of confluent and multilayered trophoblasts cultured on these membranes reaches cells at the membrane surface. Using two different infection and culture protocols, we found that up to 20% of progeny virus is released but that <1% of released virus is detected in the basal culture chamber. These results suggest that very little, if any, HCMV is released from an infected villous trophoblast into the villous stroma where the virus could ultimately infect the fetus.

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