PloS one

A Luciferase Gene Driven by an Alphaherpesviral Promoter Also Responds to Immediate Early Antigens of the Betaherpesvirus HCMV, Allowing Comparative Analyses of Different Human Herpesviruses in One Reporter Cell Line.

PMID 28060895


Widely used methods for quantification of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection in cell culture such as immunoblotting or plaque reduction assays are generally restricted to low throughput and require time-consuming evaluation. Up to now, only few HCMV reporter cell lines have been generated to overcome these restrictions and they are afflicted with other limitations because permanently expandable cell lines are normally not fully permissive to HCMV. In this work, a previously existing epithelial cell line hosting a luciferase gene under control of a Varicella-zoster virus promoter was adopted to investigate HCMV infection. The cells were susceptible to different HCMV strains at infection efficiencies that corresponded to their respective degree of epithelial cell tropism. Expression of early and late viral antigens, formation of nuclear inclusions, release of infectious virus progeny, and focal growth indicated productive viral replication. However, viral release and spread occurred at lower levels than in primary cell lines which appears to be due to a malfunction of virion morphogenesis during the nuclear stage. Expression of the luciferase reporter gene was specifically induced in HCMV infected cultures as a function of the virus dose and dependent on viral immediate early gene expression. The level of reporter activity accurately reflected infection efficiencies as determined by viral antigen immunostaining, and hence could discriminate the cell tropism of the tested virus strains. As proof-of-principle, we demonstrate that this cell line is applicable to evaluate drug resistance of clinical HCMV isolates and the neutralization capacity of human sera, and that it allows comparative and simultaneous analysis of HCMV and human herpes simplex virus type 1. In summary, the permanent epithelial reporter cell line allows robust, rapid and objective quantitation of HCMV infection and it will be particularly useful in higher throughput analyses as well as in comparative analyses of different human herpesviruses.