We sought to examine the effects of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infection on the expression of major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC I) molecules by human fibroblasts and T lymphocytes. By flow cytometry, VZV infection reduced the cell surface expression of MHC I molecules on fibroblasts significantly, yet the expression of transferrin receptor was not affected. Importantly, when human fetal thymus/liver implants in SCID-hu mice were inoculated with VZV, cell surface MHC I expression was downregulated specifically on VZV-infected human CD3+ T lymphocytes, a prominent target that sustains VZV viremia. The stage in the MHC I assembly process that was disrupted by VZV in fibroblasts was examined in pulse-chase and immunoprecipitation experiments in the presence of endoglycosidase H. MHC I complexes continued to be assembled in VZV-infected cells and were not retained in the endoplasmic reticulum. In contrast, immunofluorescence and confocal microscopy showed that VZV infection resulted in an accumulation of MHC I molecules which colocalized to the Golgi compartment. Inhibition of late viral gene expression by treatment of infected fibroblasts with phosphonoacetic acid did not influence the modulation of MHC I expression, nor did transfection of cells with plasmids expressing immediate early viral proteins. However, cells transfected with a plasmid carrying the early gene ORF66 did result in a significant downregulation of MHC I expression, suggesting that this gene encodes a protein with an immunomodulatory function. Thus, VZV downregulates MHC I expression by impairing the transport of MHC I molecules from the Golgi compartment to the cell surface; this effect may enable the virus to evade CD8+ T-cell immune recognition during VZV pathogenesis, including the critical phase of T-lymphocyte-associated viremia.
View details for Web of Science ID 000168309300043
View details for PubMedID 11312359