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PLoS pathogens

Replication of CMV in the gut of HIV-infected individuals and epithelial barrier dysfunction.


PMID 28241080

Abstract

Although invasive cytomegalovirus (CMV) disease is uncommon in the era of antiretroviral therapy (ART), asymptomatic CMV coinfection is nearly ubiquitous in HIV infected individuals. While microbial translocation and gut epithelial barrier dysfunction may promote persistent immune activation in treated HIV infection, potentially contributing to morbidity and mortality, it has been unclear whether CMV replication in individuals with no symptoms of CMV disease might play a role in this process. We hypothesized that persistent CMV replication in the intestinal epithelium of HIV/CMV-coinfected individuals impairs gut epithelial barrier function. Using a combination of state-of-the-art in situ hybridization technology (RNAscope) and immunohistochemistry, we detected CMV DNA and proteins and evidence of intestinal damage in rectosigmoid samples from CMV-positive individuals with both untreated and ART-suppressed HIV infection. Two different model systems, primary human intestinal cells differentiated in vitro to form polarized monolayers and a humanized mouse model of human gut, together demonstrated that intestinal epithelial cells are fully permissive to CMV replication. Independent of HIV, CMV disrupted tight junctions of polarized intestinal cells, significantly reducing transepithelial electrical resistance, a measure of monolayer integrity, and enhancing transepithelial permeability. The effect of CMV infection on the intestinal epithelium is mediated, at least in part, by the CMV-induced proinflammatory cytokine IL-6. Furthermore, letermovir, a novel anti-CMV drug, dampened the effects of CMV on the epithelium. Together, our data strongly suggest that CMV can disrupt epithelial junctions, leading to bacterial translocation and chronic inflammation in the gut and that CMV could serve as a target for therapeutic intervention to prevent or treat gut epithelial barrier dysfunction during HIV infection.