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J Virol. 2000 Jul;74(13):6132-46.

Dense bodies of human cytomegalovirus induce both humoral and cellular immune responses in the absence of viral gene expression.

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Institute for Virology, University of Mainz, Germany.


Infection of fibroblast cell cultures with human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) leads to the production of significant amounts of defective enveloped particles, termed dense bodies (DB). These noninfectious structures contain major antigenic determinants which are responsible for induction of both the humoral and the cellular immune response against HCMV. We tested the hypothesis that, by virtue of their unique antigenic and structural properties, DB could induce a significant immune response in the absence of infectious virus. Mice were immunized with gradient-purified DB, which were either left untreated or subjected to sequential rounds of sonication and freeze-thawing to prevent cellular entry. Titers of neutralizing antibodies induced by DB were in a range comparable to levels present in convalescent human sera. The virus-neutralizing antibody response was surprisingly durable, with neutralizing antibodies detected 12 months following primary immunization. The HCMV-specific major histocompatibility complex class I-restricted cytolytic T-cell (CTL) response was assayed using mice transgenic for the human HLA-A2 molecule. Immunization with DB led to high levels of HCMV-specific CTL in the absence of de novo viral protein synthesis. Maximal total cytolytic activity in mice immunized with DB was nearly as efficient as the cytolytic activity induced by a standard immunization with murine cytomegalovirus. Furthermore, DB induced a typical T-helper 1 (Th1)-dominated immune response in mice, as determined by cytokine and immunoglobulin G isotype analysis. Induction of humoral and cellular immune responses was achieved without the concomitant use of adjuvant. We thus propose that DB can serve as a basis for the future development of a recombinant nonreplicating vaccine against HCMV. Finally, such particles could be engineered for efficient delivery of antigens from other pathogens to the immune system.

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