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J Virol. 1996 Jun;70(6):3734-40.

Measles virus infection of thymic epithelium in the SCID-hu mouse leads to thymocyte apoptosis.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, John Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21287, USA.


Mortality from measles is caused mostly by secondary infections associated with the depression of cellular immunity. The mechanism of immune suppression and the role of virus strain differences on the immune system are incompletely understood. SCID-hu mice were used to determine the effects of virulent, wild-type (Chicago-1) and avirulent, vaccine (Moraten) strains of measles virus (MV) on the human thymus in vivo. Chicago-1 replicated rapidly, with a 100-fold decrease in numbers of thymocytes, whereas Moraten replicated slowly, without significant thymocyte death. Productive MV infection occurred not in thymocytes but in thymic epithelial and myelomonocytic cells. Wild-type MV infection of thymic stromata leads to induction of thymocyte apoptosis and may contribute to a long-term alteration of immune responses. The extent of thymic disruption reflects the virulence of the virus, and therefore the SCID-hu mouse may serve as the first small animal model for the study of MV pathogenesis.

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