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Am J Pathol. 2004 Feb;164(2):589-600.

Enhanced cytomegalovirus infection in atherosclerotic human blood vessels.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City 52242, USA.


Human cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a possible co-factor in atherogenesis and vascular occlusion, but its ability to actively infect medium and large blood vessels is unclear. A vascular explant model was adapted to investigate CMV infection in human coronary artery, internal mammary artery (IMA), and saphenous vein (SV). Vascular explants were inoculated with CMV Towne or low-passage clinical isolate and examined in situ for CMV cytopathic effect and immediate-early and early antigens, as indicators of active infection. At 5 to 7 days after inoculation, we found that CMV Towne actively infected eight of eight different atherosclerotic blood vessel explants (coronary artery, n = 4; SV and IMA grafts, n = 4), whereas it only infected 2 of 14 nonatherosclerotic blood vessel explants (SV, n = 10; IMA, n = 4) (P = 0.001). The CMV clinical isolate actively infected none of six sets of nonatherosclerotic SV explants at 5 to 7 days after inoculation. The active CMV infections involved adventitial and, less frequently, intimal cells. A small subset of infected cells in atherosclerotic tissue expresses the endothelial cell marker CD31. Smooth muscle cells residing in both atherosclerotic and nonatherosclerotic blood vessels were free of active CMV infections even after all vascular tissue layers were exposed to the virus. In contrast, active CMV Towne infection was evident at 2 days after inoculation in smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells previously isolated from the SV tissues. We conclude that active CMV infection is enhanced in atherosclerotic blood vessels compared to atherosclerosis-free vascular equivalents, and this viral activity is restricted to subpopulations of intimal and adventitial cells.

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