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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37428. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037428. Epub 2012 May 21.

Dual infection and superinfection inhibition of epithelial skin cells by two alphaherpesviruses co-occur in the natural host.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, United States of America.


Hosts can be infected with multiple herpesviruses, known as superinfection; however, superinfection of cells is rare due to the phenomenon known as superinfection inhibition. It is believed that dual infection of cells occurs in nature, based on studies examining genetic exchange between homologous alphaherpesviruses in the host, but to date, this has not been directly shown in a natural model. In this report, gallid herpesvirus 2 (GaHV-2), better known as Marek's disease virus (MDV), was used in its natural host, the chicken, to determine whether two homologous alphaherpesviruses can infect the same cells in vivo. MDV shares close similarities with the human alphaherpesvirus, varicella zoster virus (VZV), with respect to replication in the skin and exit from the host. Recombinant MDVs were generated that express either the enhanced GFP (eGFP) or monomeric RFP (mRFP) fused to the UL47 (VP13/14) herpesvirus tegument protein. These viruses exhibited no alteration in pathogenic potential and expressed abundant UL47-eGFP or -mRFP in feather follicle epithelial cells in vivo. Using laser scanning confocal microscopy, it was evident that these two similar, but distinguishable, viruses were able to replicate within the same cells of their natural host. Evidence of superinfection inhibition was also observed. These results have important implications for two reasons. First, these results show that during natural infection, both dual infection of cells and superinfection inhibition can co-occur at the cellular level. Secondly, vaccination against MDV with homologous alphaherpesvirus like attenuated GaHV-2, or non-oncogenic GaHV-3 or meleagrid herpesvirus (MeHV-1) has driven the virus to greater virulence and these results implicate the potential for genetic exchange between homologous avian alphaherpesviruses that could drive increased virulence. Because the live attenuated varicella vaccine is currently being administered to children, who in turn could be superinfected by wild-type VZV, this could potentiate recombination events of VZV as well.

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