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Scrivano, Laura; Sinzger, Christian; Nitschko, Hans; Koszinowski, Ulrich H.; Adler, Barbara (2011): HCMV spread and cell tropism are determined by distinct virus populations.
In: PLoS pathogens 7(1), e1001256




Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) can infect many different cell types in vivo. Two gH/gL complexes are used for entry into cells. gH/gL/pUL(128,130,131A) shows no selectivity for its host cell, whereas formation of a gH/gL/gO complex only restricts the tropism mainly to fibroblasts. Here, we describe that depending on the cell type in which virus replication takes place, virus carrying the gH/gL/pUL(128,130,131A) complex is either released or retained cell-associated. We observed that virus spread in fibroblast cultures was predominantly supernatant-driven, whereas spread in endothelial cell (EC) cultures was predominantly focal. This was due to properties of virus released from fibroblasts and EC. Fibroblasts released virus which could infect both fibroblasts and EC. In contrast, EC released virus which readily infected fibroblasts, but was barely able to infect EC. The EC infection capacities of virus released from fibroblasts or EC correlated with respectively high or low amounts of gH/gL/pUL(128,130,131A) in virus particles. Moreover, we found that focal spread in EC cultures could be attributed to EC-tropic virus tightly associated with EC and not released into the supernatant. Preincubation of fibroblast-derived virus progeny with EC or beads coated with pUL131A-specific antibodies depleted the fraction that could infect EC, and left a fraction that could predominantly infect fibroblasts. These data strongly suggest that HCMV progeny is composed of distinct virus populations. EC specifically retain the EC-tropic population, whereas fibroblasts release EC-tropic and non EC-tropic virus. Our findings offer completely new views on how HCMV spread may be controlled by its host cells.