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Virology. 2001 Oct 25;289(2):218-23.

Varicella-Zoster virus gene expression in latently infected rat dorsal root ganglia.

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Glasgow University Department of Neurology, Institute of Neurological Sciences, Southern General Hospital, Glasgow, G51 4TF, Scotland, United Kingdom.


Latent infection of human ganglia with Varicella-Zoster virus (VZV) is characterized by a highly restricted pattern of viral gene expression. To enhance understanding of this process we used in situ hybridization (ISH) in a rat model of VZV latency to examine expression of RNA corresponding to eight different VZV genes in rat dorsal root ganglia (DRG) at various times after footpad inoculation with wild-type VZV. PCR in situ amplification was also used to determine the cell specificity of latent VZV DNA. It was found that the pattern of viral gene expression at 1 week after infection was different from that observed at the later times of 1 and 18 months after infection. Whereas multiple genes were expressed at 1 week after infection, gene expression was restricted at the later time points when latency had been established. At the later time points after infection the RNA transcripts expressed most frequently were those for VZV genes 21, 62, and 63. Gene 63 was expressed more than any other gene studied. While VZV DNA was detected almost exclusively in 5-10% of neurons, VZV RNA was detected in both neurons and nonneuronal cells at an approximate ratio of 3:1. A newly described monoclonal antibody to VZV gene 63-encoded protein was used to detect this protein in neuronal nuclei and cytoplasm in almost half of the DRG studied. These results demonstrate that (1) this rat model of latency has close similarities in terms of viral gene expression to human VZV latency which makes it a useful tool for studying this process and its experimental modulation and (2) expression of VZV gene 63 appears to be the single most consistent feature of VZV latency.

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