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J Virol. 2004 Feb;78(3):1473-87.

Systemic immune deficiency necessary for cytomegalovirus invasion of the mature brain.

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Section of Comparative Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, USA.


Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a significant opportunistic pathogen associated with AIDS and immunosuppressive therapy. Infection of the mature central nervous system (CNS) can cause significant pathology with associated neurological deficits, mental disorders, and cognitive impairment and may have potentially fatal consequences. Using genetically immunocompromised mice, we studied mechanisms of CMV invasion into, and behavior within, the CNS. Adult immunodeficient (nude and SCID) and control mice were peripherally infected with recombinant mouse CMV expressing a green fluorescent protein reporter gene. Control mice actively eliminated acute peripheral infection and were resistant to invasion of CMV into the brain. In contrast, virus infected brains of immunodeficient mice but only after a minimum of 21 days postinoculation. After inoculation, CMV was found in circulating leukocytes (MAC-3/CD45(+)) and in leukocytes within the brain, suggesting these cells as a possible source of CMV entry into the CNS. CNS infection was observed in many different cell types, including neurons, glial cells, meninges, ependymal cells, and cells of cerebral vessels. Infection foci progressively expanded locally to adjacent cells, resulting in meningitis, choroiditis, encephalitis, vasculitis, and necrosis; clear indication of axonal transport of CMV was not found. Regional distribution of CMV was unique in each brain, consisting of randomly distributed, unilateral foci. Testing whether CMV gained access to brain through nonspecific vascular disruption, vascular injections of a tracer molecule revealed no obvious disruption of the blood brain barrier in mice with CMV in the brain. Results indicate the importance of host adaptive immunity (particularly T cells) in controlling entry and dissemination of CMV into the brain and are consistent with the view that virus may be carried into the brain by circulating mononuclear cells that traffic through the blood brain barrier.

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