Journal of neurovirology

Infected peripheral blood mononuclear cells transmit latent varicella zoster virus infection to the guinea pig enteric nervous system.

PMID 24965252


Latent wild-type (WT) and vaccine (vOka) varicella zoster virus (VZV) are found in the human enteric nervous system (ENS). VZV also infects guinea pig enteric neurons in vitro, establishes latency and can be reactivated. We therefore determined whether lymphocytes infected in vitro with VZV secrete infectious virions and can transfer infection in vivo to the ENS of recipient guinea pigs. T lymphocytes (CD3-immunoreactive) were preferentially infected following co-culture of guinea pig or human peripheral blood mononuclear cells with VZV-infected HELF. VZV proliferated in the infected T cells and expressed immediate early and late VZV genes. Electron microscopy confirmed that VZV-infected T cells produced encapsulated virions. Extracellular virus, however, was pleomorphic, suggesting degradation occurred prior to release, which was confirmed by the failure of VZV-infected T cells to secrete infectious virions. Intravenous injection of WT- or vOka-infected PBMCs, nevertheless, transmitted VZV to recipient animals (guinea pig > human lymphocytes). Two days post-inoculation, lung and liver, but not gut, contained DNA and transcripts encoding ORFs 4, 40, 66 and 67. Twenty-eight days after infection, gut contained DNA and transcripts encoding ORFs 4 and 66 but neither DNA nor transcripts could any longer be found in lung or liver. In situ hybridization revealed VZV DNA in enteric neurons, which also expressed ORF63p (but not ORF68p) immunoreactivity. Observations suggest that VZV infects T cells, which can transfer VZV to and establish latency in enteric neurons in vivo. Guinea pigs may be useful for studies of VZV pathogenesis in the ENS.