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Virology. 2002 Dec 5;304(1):53-69.

Transmission of human cytomegalovirus from infected uterine microvascular endothelial cells to differentiating/invasive placental cytotrophoblasts.

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Department of Servizio di Virologia, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico Policlinico San Matteo, 27100, Pavia, Italy.


Analysis of placentas infected with human cytomegalovirus (CMV) suggested that viral transmission could involve differentiating/invasive cytotrophoblasts in villi that attach the placenta to the uterine wall. To parse the cellular components in this process, we developed a coculture system of polarized uterine microvascular endothelial cell (UtMVEC) infection with an endothelial cell-tropic pathogenic strain of CMV. Then we evaluated the potential role of neutrophils and endothelial cells in the spread of infection to differentiating cytotrophoblasts. As shown by immunocytochemistry and analysis of viral replication, CMV preferentially infected endothelial cells via apical membranes and disrupted cell junction proteins, thereby altering paracellular permeability and cell polarity. Neutralizing antibodies to CMV glycoprotein B, an envelope component that facilitates virion penetration, blocked plaque formation in polarized UtMVEC. Neutrophils transmitted CMV infection to UtMVEC, which in turn infected cytotrophoblasts. However, neutrophils did not directly infect cytotrophoblasts. These findings implicate endothelial cells from the uterine microvasculature as a potential source for CMV infection of endovascular cytotrophoblasts of the anchoring villi. Possibly the cytokine/chemokine milieu in the pregnant uterus could attract immune cells that infect endothelial cells in hybrid fetal-maternal vessels. In turn, these cells could infect endovascular cytotrophoblasts, one possible initiation point of a cascade that results in retrograde placental CMV infection.

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