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J Comp Neurol. 2000 Nov 27;427(4):559-80.

Mouse cytomegalovirus in developing brain tissue: analysis of 11 species with GFP-expressing recombinant virus.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.


Cytomegaloviruses (CMVs) are species-specific large double-stranded DNA viruses. Mouse and human CMVs have a similar morphology, similar gene sequence, and exert similar cellular effects, but the replication of the virus outside its primary host species is limited. This may confer upon CMV certain advantages for expression of foreign genes or cellular labels in brain cells of nonhost species. We examined the ability of recombinant mouse (m)CMV expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) to serve as a vector for transgene expression in developing neurons and glia outside the normal host species. For comparative purposes, 11 species were examined. Mouse CMV reporter gene expression was particularly strong in the developing brain of its normal host species, mouse, where it replicated in cultures and brain slices, leading to cell death. All mammalian species tested (human, rat, gerbil, hamster, mouse) showed reporter gene expression after mCMV infection. High levels of mCMV infection were also found in chicken central nervous system cells in vitro, and a low level of mCMV expression was found after an initial delay in turtle neurons and glia. No mCMV reporter gene expression was found in frog cells or aplysia neurons or glia or in drosophila or fungal cells. Infection of nonmouse neurons by low concentrations of mCMV led to strong expression of GFP in dendrites and axons with normal morphology. Despite the lack of replication, high doses of mCMV induced morphologic changes in neurons and glia from hamster and rat brain slices, leading to cells rounding up, and to the formation of giant cells consisting of an aggregate of many cells fused together into a syncytium. In contrast, in human hippocampal slices, GFP-expressing cells infected with mCMV had a relatively normal appearance 12 days after inoculation. To determine whether a CMV from another species could serve as a vector for gene transfer, a recombinant human CMV-expressing GFP was used for transgene expression in rat brain cells in vitro. Cytomegaloviruses thus have potential as useful vectors for gene transfer and labeling central nervous system cells, with the actions of CMV being dependent on a number of factors.

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