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Virol J. 2007 Feb 27;4:22.

Pathogeneses of respiratory infections with virulent and attenuated vaccinia viruses.

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Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01655, USA.



Respiratory infection with the neurovirulent vaccinia virus (VV) strain Western Reserve (WR) results in an acute infection of the lung followed by dissemination of the virus to other organs and causes lethality in mice. The mechanisms of lethality are not well-understood. In this study, we analyzed virus replication and host immune responses after intranasal infection with lethal and non-lethal doses of VV using the WR strain and the less virulent Wyeth strain.


The WR strain replicated more vigorously in the lung and in the brain than the Wyeth strain. There were, however, no differences between the virus titers in the brains of mice infected with the higher lethal dose and the lower non-lethal dose of WR strain, suggesting that the amount of virus replication in the brain is unlikely to be the sole determining factor of lethality. The WR strain grew better in primary mouse lung cells than the Wyeth strain. Lethal infection with WR strain was associated with a reduced number of lymphocytes and an altered phenotype of the T cells in the lung compared to non-lethal infections with the WR or Wyeth strains. Severe thymus atrophy with a reduction of CD4 and CD8 double positive T cells was also observed in the lethal infection.


These results suggest that the lethality induced by intranasal infection with a high dose of the WR strain is caused by the higher replication of virus in lung cells and immune suppression during the early phase of the infection, resulting in uncontrolled virus replication in the lung.

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