Following primary infection, human cytomegalovirus (CMV) establishes a lifelong latent infection in bone marrow-derived myeloid lineage cells. Although downmodulation of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and class II protein levels occurs during active viral replication, little is known about the modulation of these proteins during latent infection. When analyzed by flow cytometry, latently infected adherent cells collected from granulocyte macrophage progenitor (GM-P) cultures exhibited a striking reduction in MHC class II antigen present on the cell surface starting very early after exposure to virus that continued for more than 2 weeks. In comparison, cell surface levels of the monocyte cell surface marker CD14 remained unaltered in these cells. A recombinant virus (RV798) lacking the virus genes US2-US11 retained the ability to downmodulate MHC class II levels during latent infection. Immunoblot and immunofluorescent antibody staining analyses showed that the reduction in MHC class II surface levels during latency was associated with a block in protein trafficking. HLA-DR was retained within cytoplasmic vesicles that also contained HLA-DM. Thus, downmodulation remained independent of all previously characterized MHC class I and class II immunomodulatory viral gene products and involved a mechanism not previously ascribed to any viral function. These data show that latent infection is accompanied by reduced cell surface expression of MHC class II proteins, a strategy that would afford the virus escape from immunosurveillance and increase the chances for lifelong latent infection.
View details for Web of Science ID 000178519100030
View details for PubMedID 12351397