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Microbes Infect. 2013 Feb;15(2):115-25. doi: 10.1016/j.micinf.2012.10.018. Epub 2012 Nov 14.

Infectivity of rabies virus-exposed macrophages.

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National Reference Laboratory of Rabies, Viral Diseases, Communicable and Infectious Diseases, Scientific Institute of Public Health, Engeland St. 642, B-1180 Brussels, Belgium.


Rabies virus distributes widely in infected mice, including lymphoid tissues and spleen macrophages. The infection characteristics in murine macrophages and the infectivity of virus-exposed macrophages were examined upon inoculation in mice. In vitro, Mf4/4 spleen macrophages supported mild virus production (10(4)-fold less than neuroblastoma), with formation of typical virions. Bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMM) were most efficient to capture virus, but new virus production was not detected. Virus-induced cell death was significantly stronger in BMM, which might have eliminated BMM with productive infection. Still, viral RNA remained detectable in the remaining BMM for at least 4 weeks. Injection of in vitro-infected Mf4/4 in the nose or brain proved efficient to propagate infection in mice, even when cells were pre-incubated with neutralizing antibodies. Surprisingly, injection of ex-vivo-infected BMM in the brain also led to lethal infection in 8 out of 12 mice. Injection of infected Mf4/4 in the muscle mostly favoured a protective antibody response. Despite that macrophages are less fit to support virus production, they can still act as a source of infectious virus upon transfer in mice. This may be relevant for screening donor organs/cells, for which RT-PCR should be preferred over the traditional antigen or virus isolation assays.

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