To investigate the cell tropism and pathogenicity of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) strains, we analyzed VZV replication by using SCID-hu mice that carry human fetal thymus/liver implants under the kidney capsule or as subcutaneous fetal skin implants. MRC-5 cells infected with wild-type VZV or the Oka strain, used in the live attenuated varicella vaccine, were injected into the implants. The implants were surgically removed 2, 7, 14, and 21 days postinfection. The VZV titer from infected thymus/liver implants peaked on day 7 for the wild-type strain and on day 14 for the Oka strain. Histological analysis showed necrotic areas characterized by thymocyte depletion and fibrosis. VZV protein synthesis was detectable by immunohistochemical staining in the necrotic areas and in distant regions that did not show cytopathic changes, and VZV DNA was detected by in situ hybridization in the same distribution. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting analysis of thymocytes harvested at day 7 postinfection showed that VZV proteins were expressed in CD4+, CD8+, and CD4+ CD8+ T cells; VZV was cultured from each T-cell subpopulation. The Oka strain had tropism for human cell types similar to that of wild-type VZV. T lymphocytes released infectious VZV, which is a novel and important observation about the replication of this otherwise highly cell associated virus. VZV-infected skin implants exhibited microscopic epidermal lesions that were indistinguishable histologically from the characteristic lesions of varicella. These experiments demonstrate a unique tropism of VZV for human T lymphocytes, explaining its capacity to cause viremia in natural disease, and demonstrate the value of the SCID-hu model for studies of VZV pathogenesis.
View details for Web of Science ID A1995RN98600004
View details for PubMedID 7636965