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J Virol. 1995 Oct;69(10):6541-7.

Thymus involution induced by mouse hepatitis virus A59 in BALB/c mice.

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  • 1Laboratory of Pathology, St.-Luc Hospital, Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.


Mouse hepatitis virus A59 (MHV-A59) infection of adult BALB/c mice induced a severe, transient atrophy of the thymus. The effect was maximal at 1 week after infection, and thymuses returned to normal size by 2 weeks after infection. There was no effect of glucocorticoids, since thymus atrophy was also found in adrenalectomized, infected mice. In infected thymus, immature CD4+ CD8+ lymphocytes were selectively depleted, and apoptosis of lymphocytes was increased. The MHV receptor glycoprotein MHVR was detected on thymus epithelial cells but not on T lymphocytes. In a small number of stromal epithelial cells, but in very few lymphocytes, the viral genome was detectable by in situ hybridization. These observations suggested that MHV-A59-induced thymic atrophy results not from a generalized lytic infection of T lymphocytes but rather from apoptosis of immature double-positive T cells that might be caused by infection of a small proportion of thymus epithelial cells or from inappropriate secretion of some factor, such as a cytokine.

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