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1.  Cross-Species Rhesus Cytomegalovirus Infection of Cynomolgus Macaques 
PLoS Pathogens  2016;12(11):e1006014.
Cytomegaloviruses (CMV) are highly species-specific due to millennia of co-evolution and adaptation to their host, with no successful experimental cross-species infection in primates reported to date. Accordingly, full genome phylogenetic analysis of multiple new CMV field isolates derived from two closely related nonhuman primate species, Indian-origin rhesus macaques (RM) and Mauritian-origin cynomolgus macaques (MCM), revealed distinct and tight lineage clustering according to the species of origin, with MCM CMV isolates mirroring the limited genetic diversity of their primate host that underwent a population bottleneck 400 years ago. Despite the ability of Rhesus CMV (RhCMV) laboratory strain 68–1 to replicate efficiently in MCM fibroblasts and potently inhibit antigen presentation to MCM T cells in vitro, RhCMV 68–1 failed to productively infect MCM in vivo, even in the absence of host CD8+ T and NK cells. In contrast, RhCMV clone 68–1.2, genetically repaired to express the homologues of the HCMV anti-apoptosis gene UL36 and epithelial cell tropism genes UL128 and UL130 absent in 68–1, efficiently infected MCM as evidenced by the induction of transgene-specific T cells and virus shedding. Recombinant variants of RhCMV 68–1 and 68–1.2 revealed that expression of either UL36 or UL128 together with UL130 enabled productive MCM infection, indicating that multiple layers of cross-species restriction operate even between closely related hosts. Cumulatively, these results implicate cell tropism and evasion of apoptosis as critical determinants of CMV transmission across primate species barriers, and extend the macaque model of human CMV infection and immunology to MCM, a nonhuman primate species with uniquely simplified host immunogenetics.
Author Summary
Nonhuman primates are excellent models of HCMV infection and immunity, and their CMVs closely resemble HCMV in genomic organization and coding potential. Here, we expand the existing models by isolating new full-length, non-human primate CMV strains that more closely resemble primary HCMV isolates. In addition, we identify determinants needed for recombinant clones of RhCMV to infect MCM both in vitro and in vivo. Given their simplified immunogenetics, these results enable the use of MCM to deepen our understanding of CMV immunology.
PMCID: PMC5102353  PMID: 27829026
2.  Dysregulated TGF-β Production Underlies the Age-Related Vulnerability to Chikungunya Virus 
PLoS Pathogens  2016;12(10):e1005891.
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a re-emerging global pathogen with pandemic potential, which causes fever, rash and debilitating arthralgia. Older adults over 65 years are particularly susceptible to severe and chronic CHIKV disease (CHIKVD), accounting for >90% of all CHIKV-related deaths. There are currently no approved vaccines or antiviral treatments available to limit chronic CHIKVD. Here we show that in old mice excessive, dysregulated TGFβ production during acute infection leads to a reduced immune response and subsequent chronic disease. Humans suffering from CHIKV infection also exhibited high TGFβ levels and a pronounced age-related defect in neutralizing anti-CHIKV antibody production. In vivo reduction of TGFβ levels minimized acute joint swelling, restored neutralizing antibody production and diminished chronic joint pathology in old mice. This study identifies increased and dysregulated TGFβ secretion as one key mechanism contributing to the age-related loss of protective anti-CHIKV-immunity leading to chronic CHIKVD.
Author Summary
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) causes an acute febrile syndrome and severe acute and chronic joint disease that, for unknown reasons, especially affects older adults. CHIKV has recently reached the Americas and is threatening the Southeastern USA. At the present there is no approved vaccine or antiviral treatments against CHIKV and treatment is limited to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). We have shown here in a mouse model that increased production of the immunosuppressive cytokine TGFβ contributes to the excess of CHIKV disease severity with aging. Blocking of this cytokine reduced early swelling and late joint/foot pathology, and increased production of neutralizing antibodies. Since our data demonstrate high levels of TGFβ in humans experiencing acute CHIKV infection and decreased anti-CHIKV neutralizing antibodies in older CHIKV-exposed humans, these results could pave the way to new treatments against CHIKV disease.
PMCID: PMC5063327  PMID: 27736984
3.  Humanized Mouse Models of Human Cytomegalovirus Infection 
The generation of humanized mouse models in which immune deficient mice are engrafted with human tissues allows for the direct in vivo investigation of human-restricted viruses. These humanized mouse models have been developed and improved over the past 30 years. It is now possible to achieve high levels of human cell engraftment producing human myeloid and lymphoid lineage cells. Humanized mouse models have been increasingly utilized in the study of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), a human-specific beta-herpesvirus that infects myeloprogenitor cells and establishes a life-long latency in the infected host. This review focuses on the strengths and limitations of the current humanized mouse models used to study HCMV replication, pathogenesis and treatment.
PMCID: PMC4599783  PMID: 26118890
4.  Cytomegalovirus Infection of the Rat Developing Brain In Utero Prominently Targets Immune Cells and Promotes Early Microglial Activation 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(7):e0160176.
Congenital cytomegalovirus infections are a leading cause of neurodevelopmental disorders in human and represent a major health care and socio-economical burden. In contrast with this medical importance, the pathophysiological events remain poorly known. Murine models of brain cytomegalovirus infection, mostly neonatal, have brought recent insights into the possible pathogenesis, with convergent evidence for the alteration and possible involvement of brain immune cells.
Objectives and Methods
In order to confirm and expand those findings, particularly concerning the early developmental stages following infection of the fetal brain, we have created a model of in utero cytomegalovirus infection in the developing rat brain. Rat cytomegalovirus was injected intraventricularly at embryonic day 15 (E15) and the brains analyzed at various stages until the first postnatal day, using a combination of gene expression analysis, immunohistochemistry and multicolor flow cytometry experiments.
Rat cytomegalovirus infection was increasingly seen in various brain areas including the choroid plexi and the ventricular and subventricular areas and was prominently detected in CD45low/int, CD11b+ microglial cells, in CD45high, CD11b+ cells of the myeloid lineage including macrophages, and in CD45+, CD11b– lymphocytes and non-B non-T cells. In parallel, rat cytomegalovirus infection of the developing rat brain rapidly triggered a cascade of pathophysiological events comprising: chemokines upregulation, including CCL2-4, 7 and 12; infiltration by peripheral cells including B-cells and monocytes at E17 and P1, and T-cells at P1; and microglia activation at E17 and P1.
In line with previous findings in neonatal murine models and in human specimen, our study further suggests that neuroimmune alterations might play critical roles in the early stages following cytomegalovirus infection of the brain in utero. Further studies are now needed to determine which role, whether favorable or detrimental, those putative double-edge swords events actually play.
PMCID: PMC4966896  PMID: 27472761
5.  Complex Interplay of the UL136 Isoforms Balances Cytomegalovirus Replication and Latency 
mBio  2016;7(2):e01986-15.
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), a betaherpesvirus, persists indefinitely in the human host through poorly understood mechanisms. The UL136 gene is carried within a genetic locus important to HCMV latency termed the UL133/8 locus, which also carries UL133, UL135, and UL138. Previously, we demonstrated that UL136 is expressed as five protein isoforms ranging from 33-kDa to 19-kDa, arising from alternative transcription and, likely, translation initiation mechanisms. We previously showed that the UL136 isoforms are largely dispensable for virus infection in fibroblasts, a model for productive virus replication. In our current work, UL136 has emerged as a complex regulator of HCMV infection in multiple contexts of infection relevant to HCMV persistence: in an endothelial cell (EC) model of chronic infection, in a CD34+ hematopoietic progenitor cell (HPC) model of latency, and in an in vivo NOD-scid IL2Rγcnull humanized (huNSG) mouse model for latency. The 33- and 26-kDa isoforms promote replication, while the 23- and 19-kDa isoforms suppress replication in ECs, in CD34+ HPCs, and in huNSG mice. The role of the 25-kDa isoform is context dependent and influences the activity of the other isoforms. These isoforms localize throughout the secretory pathway, and loss of the 33- and 26-kDa UL136 isoforms results in virus maturation defects in ECs. This work reveals an intriguing functional interplay between protein isoforms that impacts virus replication, latency, and dissemination, contributing to the overall role of the UL133/8 locus in HCMV infection.
The persistence of DNA viruses, and particularly of herpesviruses, remains an enigma because we have not completely defined the viral and host factors important to persistence. Human cytomegalovirus, a herpesvirus, persists in the absence of disease in immunocompetent individuals but poses a serious disease threat to transplant patients and the developing fetus. There is no vaccine, and current therapies do not target latent reservoirs. In an effort to define the viral factors important to persistence, we have studied viral genes with no known viral replication function in contexts important to HCMV persistence. Using models relevant to viral persistence, we demonstrate opposing roles of protein isoforms encoded by the UL136 gene in regulating latent and replicative states of infection. Our findings reveal an intriguing interplay between UL136 protein isoforms and define UL136 as an important regulator of HCMV persistence.
PMCID: PMC4810493  PMID: 26933055
6.  Sequence-Specific Modifications Enhance the Broad-Spectrum Antiviral Response Activated by RIG-I Agonists 
Journal of Virology  2015;89(15):8011-8025.
The cytosolic RIG-I (retinoic acid-inducible gene I) receptor plays a pivotal role in the initiation of the immune response against RNA virus infection by recognizing short 5′-triphosphate (5′ppp)-containing viral RNA and activating the host antiviral innate response. In the present study, we generated novel 5′ppp RIG-I agonists of varieous lengths, structures, and sequences and evaluated the generation of the antiviral and inflammatory responses in human epithelial A549 cells, human innate immune primary cells, and murine models of influenza and chikungunya viral pathogenesis. A 99-nucleotide, uridine-rich hairpin 5′pppRNA termed M8 stimulated an extensive and robust interferon response compared to other modified 5′pppRNA structures, RIG-I aptamers, or poly(I·C). Interestingly, manipulation of the primary RNA sequence alone was sufficient to modulate antiviral activity and inflammatory response, in a manner dependent exclusively on RIG-I and independent of MDA5 and TLR3. Both prophylactic and therapeutic administration of M8 effectively inhibited influenza virus and dengue virus replication in vitro. Furthermore, multiple strains of influenza virus that were resistant to oseltamivir, an FDA-approved therapeutic treatment for influenza, were highly sensitive to inhibition by M8. Finally, prophylactic M8 treatment in vivo prolonged survival and reduced lung viral titers of mice challenged with influenza virus, as well as reducing chikungunya virus-associated foot swelling and viral load. Altogether, these results demonstrate that 5′pppRNA can be rationally designed to achieve a maximal RIG-I-mediated protective antiviral response against human-pathogenic RNA viruses.
IMPORTANCE The development of novel therapeutics to treat human-pathogenic RNA viral infections is an important goal to reduce spread of infection and to improve human health and safety. This study investigated the design of an RNA agonist with enhanced antiviral and inflammatory properties against influenza, dengue, and chikungunya viruses. A novel, sequence-dependent, uridine-rich RIG-I agonist generated a protective antiviral response in vitro and in vivo and was effective at concentrations 100-fold lower than prototype sequences or other RNA agonists, highlighting the robust activity and potential clinical use of the 5′pppRNA against RNA virus infection. Altogether, the results identify a novel, sequence-specific RIG-I agonist as an attractive therapeutic candidate for the treatment of a broad range of RNA viruses, a pressing issue in which a need for new and more effective options persists.
PMCID: PMC4505665  PMID: 26018150
7.  Characterization of a Novel Human-Specific STING Agonist that Elicits Antiviral Activity Against Emerging Alphaviruses 
PLoS Pathogens  2015;11(12):e1005324.
Pharmacologic stimulation of innate immune processes represents an attractive strategy to achieve multiple therapeutic outcomes including inhibition of virus replication, boosting antitumor immunity, and enhancing vaccine immunogenicity. In light of this we sought to identify small molecules capable of activating the type I interferon (IFN) response by way of the transcription factor IFN regulatory factor 3 (IRF3). A high throughput in vitro screen yielded 4-(2-chloro-6-fluorobenzyl)-N-(furan-2-ylmethyl)-3-oxo-3,4-dihydro-2H-benzo[b][1,4]thiazine-6-carboxamide (referred to herein as G10), which was found to trigger IRF3/IFN-associated transcription in human fibroblasts. Further examination of the cellular response to this molecule revealed expression of multiple IRF3-dependent antiviral effector genes as well as type I and III IFN subtypes. This led to the establishment of a cellular state that prevented replication of emerging Alphavirus species including Chikungunya virus, Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis virus, and Sindbis virus. To define cellular proteins essential to elicitation of the antiviral activity by the compound we employed a reverse genetics approach that utilized genome editing via CRISPR/Cas9 technology. This allowed the identification of IRF3, the IRF3-activating adaptor molecule STING, and the IFN-associated transcription factor STAT1 as required for observed gene induction and antiviral effects. Biochemical analysis indicates that G10 does not bind to STING directly, however. Thus the compound may represent the first synthetic small molecule characterized as an indirect activator of human STING-dependent phenotypes. In vivo stimulation of STING-dependent activity by an unrelated small molecule in a mouse model of Chikungunya virus infection blocked viremia demonstrating that pharmacologic activation of this signaling pathway may represent a feasible strategy for combating emerging Alphaviruses.
Author Summary
STING is a pattern recognition receptor of cyclic dinucleotides as well as an innate immune adaptor protein that enables signaling from cytoplasmic receptors to the transcription factor interferon regulatory factor 3. Initiation of these pathways leads to the expression of type I interferons and proteins associated with antiviral and antitumor immunity. Small molecules capable of triggering STING-dependent cellular processes are effective at blocking virus replication, enhancing vaccine efficacy, and facilitating immune response to cancer cells. Here we describe the first synthetic small molecule capable of activating STING-mediated signaling in human cells. In addition, we show that exposure of cells to the compound renders them refractory to replication by interferon-sensitive emerging Alphaviruses. In addition, in vivo stimulation of STING-dependent activity also blocks viremia of Chikungunya virus. Ultimately this work may lead to the utilization of STING as a target for multiple immune-mediated therapies.
PMCID: PMC4672893  PMID: 26646986
8.  Nonhuman Primate Models of Chikungunya Virus Infection and Disease (CHIKV NHP Model) 
Pathogens  2015;4(3):662-681.
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a positive-sense RNA virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. CHIKV is a reemerging Alphavirus that causes acute febrile illness and severe and debilitating polyarthralgia of the peripheral joints. Huge epidemics and the rapid spread of CHIKV seen in India and the Indian Ocean region established CHIKV as a global health concern. This concern was further solidified by the recent incursion of the virus into the Western hemisphere, a region without pre-existing immunity. Nonhuman primates (NHPs) serve as excellent animal models for understanding CHIKV pathogenesis and pre-clinical assessment of vaccines and therapeutics. NHPs present advantages over rodent models because they are a natural amplification host for CHIKV and they share significant genetic and physiological homology with humans. CHIKV infection in NHPs results in acute fever, rash, viremia and production of type I interferon. NHPs develop CHIKV-specific B and T-cells, generating neutralizing antibodies and CHIKV-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells. CHIKV establishes a persistent infection in NHPs, particularly in cynomolgus macaques, because infectious virus could be recovered from spleen, liver, and muscle as late as 44 days post infection. NHPs are valuable models that are useful in preclinical testing of vaccines and therapeutics and uncovering the details of CHIKV pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4584280  PMID: 26389957
chikungunya virus; nonhuman primate; polyarthritis; pathogenesis; immunity
9.  Human Cytomegalovirus miR-UL112-3p Targets TLR2 and Modulates the TLR2/IRAK1/NFκB Signaling Pathway 
PLoS Pathogens  2015;11(5):e1004881.
Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) encodes multiple microRNAs (miRNAs) whose functions are just beginning to be uncovered. Using in silico approaches, we identified the Toll-Like Receptor (TLR) innate immunity pathway as a possible target of HCMV miRNAs. Luciferase reporter assay screens further identified TLR2 as a target of HCMV miR-UL112-3p. TLR2 plays a major role in innate immune response by detecting both bacterial and viral ligands, including HCMV envelope proteins gB and gH. TLR2 activates a variety of signal transduction routes including the NFκB pathway. Furthermore, TLR2 plays an important role in controlling CMV infection both in humans and in mice. Immunoblot analysis of cells transfected with a miR-UL112-3p mimic revealed that endogenous TLR2 is down-regulated by miR-UL112-3p with similar efficiency as a TLR2-targeting siRNA (siTLR2). We next found that TLR2 protein level decreases at late times during HCMV infection and correlates with miR-UL112-3p accumulation in fibroblasts and monocytic THP1 cells. Confirming direct miR-UL112-3p targeting, down-regulation of endogenous TLR2 was not observed in cells infected with HCMV mutants deficient in miR-UL112-3p expression, but transfection of miR-UL112-3p in these cells restored TLR2 down-regulation. Using a NFκB reporter cell line, we found that miR-UL112-3p transfection significantly inhibited NFκB-dependent luciferase activity with similar efficiency as siTLR2. Consistent with this observation, miR-UL112-3p transfection significantly reduced the expression of multiple cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6 and IL-8) upon stimulation with a TLR2 agonist. Finally, miR-UL112-3p transfection significantly inhibited the TLR2-induced post-translational activation of IRAK1, a kinase located in the upstream section of the TLR2/NFκB signaling axis. To our knowledge, this is the first identified mechanism of TLR2 modulation by HCMV and is the first report of functional targeting of TLR2 by a viral miRNA. These results provide a novel mechanism through which a HCMV miRNA regulates the innate immune response by down-regulating TLR-2 expression.
Author Summary
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a herpesvirus that is a leading cause of congenital defects in newborns and can be deadly in people with weakened immunity. HCMV has developed multiple strategies to escape the host immune system. Among those, microRNAs (miRNAs) are short regulatory RNAs that target gene transcripts through sequence complementarity. HCMV expresses more than 20 miRNAs and several of them, in particular miR-UL112-3p, have been demonstrated to cooperate in evading the host antiviral immune response during infection. In this work we identified TLR2, a cell surface receptor that plays an important role in the detection and control of CMV infection, as a novel target of miR-UL112-3p. We demonstrate that miR-UL112-3p efficiently down-regulates endogenous TLR2 during infection, causing significant inhibition of the downstream signaling cascade. This work provides the first identified mechanism of TLR2 modulation by HCMV and is the first report of TLR2 targeting by a viral miRNA.
PMCID: PMC4425655  PMID: 25955717
10.  Fluorescence-Based Laser Capture Microscopy Technology Facilitates Identification of Critical In Vivo Cytomegalovirus Transcriptional Programs 
Cytomegalovirus gene expression in highly permissive, cultured fibroblasts occurs in three kinetic classes known as immediate early, early and late. Infection of these cells results in a predictable transcriptional program leading to high levels of virus production. Infection of other, so called, “non-permissive cell types” results in a transcriptional program that either fails to produce virus particles or production is substantially reduced compared to fibroblasts. We have found that CMV gene expression profiles in tissues from infected hosts differ greatly from those observed in infected tissue culture cells. The number of viral genes expressed in tissues is much more limited, and the number of highly active genes does not correlate with viral DNA load. Additionally, viral gene expression in vivo is tissue selective with no two tissues expressing the exact same viral gene profile. Thus, in vivo CMV gene expression appears to be governed by mechanisms that are still uncharacterized. Cytomegalovirus remains in a persistent phase for the lifetime of the host. During this phase only a limited number of host cells are infected, and it is very difficult to detect CMV gene expression in whole tissues without sub-fractionating infected vs. uninfected cells. Herein, we describe the development of a fluorescence-based laser capture microscopy technique coupled with small sample size microarray analysis to determine the viral gene expression in 50–100 infected cells isolated from frozen RCMV-infected tissue sections.
PMCID: PMC4347879  PMID: 24639226
Laser capture microscopy; cytomegalovirus; green fluorescence protein; microarray analysis
11.  Chikungunya Viruses That Escape Monoclonal Antibody Therapy Are Clinically Attenuated, Stable, and Not Purified in Mosquitoes 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(15):8213-8226.
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a reemerging mosquito-transmitted alphavirus that causes epidemics of debilitating polyarthritis in humans. A prior study identified two anti-CHIKV monoclonal antibodies ([MAbs] CHK-152 and CHK-166) against the E2 and E1 structural proteins, which had therapeutic efficacy in immunocompetent and immunocompromised mice. Combination MAb therapy was required as administration of a single MAb resulted in the rapid selection of neutralization escape variants and treatment failure in mice. Here, we initially evaluated the efficacy of combination MAb therapy in a nonhuman primate model of CHIKV infection. Treatment of rhesus macaques with CHK-152 and CHK-166 reduced viral spread and infection in distant tissue sites and also neutralized reservoirs of infectious virus. Escape viruses were not detected in the residual viral RNA present in tissues and organs of rhesus macaques. To evaluate the possible significance of MAb resistance, we engineered neutralization escape variant viruses (E1-K61T, E2-D59N, and the double mutant E1-K61T E2-D59N) that conferred resistance to CHK-152 and CHK-166 and tested them for fitness in mosquito cells, mammalian cells, mice, and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. In both cell culture and mosquitoes, the mutant viruses grew equivalently and did not revert to wild-type (WT) sequence. All escape variants showed evidence of mild clinical attenuation, with decreased musculoskeletal disease at early times after infection in WT mice and a prolonged survival time in immunocompromised Ifnar1−/− mice. Unexpectedly, this was not associated with decreased infectivity, and consensus sequencing from tissues revealed no evidence of reversion or compensatory mutations. Competition studies with CHIKV WT also revealed no fitness compromise of the double mutant (E1-K61T E2-D59N) neutralization escape variant in WT mice. Collectively, our study suggests that neutralization escape viruses selected during combination MAb therapy with CHK-152 plus CHK-166 retain fitness, cause less severe clinical disease, and likely would not be purified during the enzootic cycle.
IMPORTANCE Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) causes explosive epidemics of acute and chronic arthritis in humans in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia and recently has spread to the New World. As there are no approved vaccines or therapies for human use, the possibility of CHIKV-induced debilitating disease is high in many parts of the world. To this end, our laboratory recently generated a combination monoclonal antibody therapy that aborted lethal and arthritogenic disease in wild-type and immunocompromised mice when administered as a single dose several days after infection. In this study, we show the efficacy of the antibody combination in nonhuman primates and also evaluate the significance of possible neutralization escape mutations in mosquito and mammalian cells, mice, and Aedes albopictus vector mosquitoes. Our experiments show that escape viruses from combination antibody therapy cause less severe CHIKV clinical disease, retain fitness, and likely would not be purified by mosquito vectors.
PMCID: PMC4135940  PMID: 24829346
12.  HCMV infection of humanized mice after transplantation of G-CSF mobilized peripheral blood stem cells from HCMV-seropositive donors 
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection remains a significant problem in the setting of peripheral blood stem cell transplant (PBSCT), including primary infection resulting from transmission from a seropositive donor to a seronegative recipient (D+/R−). The lack of an animal model suitable for studying HCMV transmission after PBSCT is a major barrier in understanding this process and, consequently, the development of novel interventions to prevent HCMV infection. Our previous work demonstrated that human CD34+ progenitor cell engrafted NOD-scid IL2Rγcnull (NSG) mice support latent HCMV infection after direct inoculation, and reactivation after treatment with G-CSF. To more accurately recapitulate HCMV infection in the D+/R− PBSCT setting, granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) mobilized peripheral blood stem cells (PBSCs) from seropositive donors were used to engraft NSG mice. All recipient mice demonstrated evidence of HCMV infection in liver, spleen, and bone marrow. These observations validate the NSG mouse model as a means to study HCMV transmission during PBSCT.
PMCID: PMC3922710  PMID: 24161922
13.  Cytomegalovirus pp65 limits dissemination but is dispensable for persistence 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(5):1928-1944.
The most abundantly produced virion protein in human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is the immunodominant phosphoprotein 65 (pp65), which is frequently included in CMV vaccines. Although it is nonessential for in vitro CMV growth, pp65 displays immunomodulatory functions that support a potential role in primary and/or persistent infection. To determine the contribution of pp65 to CMV infection and immunity, we generated a rhesus CMV lacking both pp65 orthologs (RhCMVΔpp65ab). While deletion of pp65ab slightly reduced growth in vitro and increased defective particle formation, the protein composition of secreted virions was largely unchanged. Interestingly, pp65 was not required for primary and persistent infection in animals. Immune responses induced by RhCMVΔpp65ab did not prevent reinfection with rhesus CMV; however, reinfection with RhCMVΔUS2-11, which lacks viral-encoded MHC-I antigen presentation inhibitors, was prevented. Unexpectedly, induction of pp65b-specific T cells alone did not protect against RhCMVΔUS2-11 challenge, suggesting that T cells targeting multiple CMV antigens are required for protection. However, pp65-specific immunity was crucial for controlling viral dissemination during primary infection, as indicated by the marked increase of RhCMVΔpp65ab genome copies in CMV-naive, but not CMV-immune, animals. Our data provide rationale for inclusion of pp65 into CMV vaccines but also demonstrate that pp65-induced T cell responses alone do not recapitulate the protective effect of natural infection.
PMCID: PMC4002596  PMID: 24691437
14.  Chikungunya Virus Infection Results in Higher and Persistent Viral Replication in Aged Rhesus Macaques Due to Defects in Anti-Viral Immunity 
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a re-emerging mosquito-borne Alphavirus that causes a clinical disease involving fever, myalgia, nausea and rash. The distinguishing feature of CHIKV infection is the severe debilitating poly-arthralgia that may persist for several months after viral clearance. Since its re-emergence in 2004, CHIKV has spread from the Indian Ocean region to new locations including metropolitan Europe, Japan, and even the United States. The risk of importing CHIKV to new areas of the world is increasing due to high levels of viremia in infected individuals as well as the recent adaptation of the virus to the mosquito species Aedes albopictus. CHIKV re-emergence is also associated with new clinical complications including severe morbidity and, for the first time, mortality. In this study, we characterized disease progression and host immune responses in adult and aged Rhesus macaques infected with either the recent CHIKV outbreak strain La Reunion (LR) or the West African strain 37997. Our results indicate that following intravenous infection and regardless of the virus used, Rhesus macaques become viremic between days 1–5 post infection. While adult animals are able to control viral infection, aged animals show persistent virus in the spleen. Virus-specific T cell responses in the aged animals were reduced compared to adult animals and the B cell responses were also delayed and reduced in aged animals. Interestingly, regardless of age, T cell and antibody responses were more robust in animals infected with LR compared to 37997 CHIKV strain. Taken together these data suggest that the reduced immune responses in the aged animals promotes long-term virus persistence in CHIKV-LR infected Rhesus monkeys.
Author Summary
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a re-emerging Alphavirus that has caused recent massive outbreaks in the Indian Ocean region. In addition, outbreaks have been documented in Europe and elsewhere in the world, initiated by infected travelers returning to their homelands. The recent outbreak strains possess extended vector range and as such, raise the potential of CHIKV outbreaks in the Southeastern parts of the United States. In this study, we examined CHIKV immunity in adult and aged Rhesus macaques following infection with two different CHIKV strains (recent outbreak strain CHIKV-LR and a West African Strain CHIKV-37997). CHIKV-LR causes persistent infection in the aged animals and replicates, on average, to higher levels than CHIKV-37997. Irrespective of the viral strain used, aged animals had delayed and/or reduced immunity compared to adult animals. Our data support the clinical findings of CHIKV susceptibility in vulnerable populations including the aged and provide mechanistic evidence that an effective immune response directed against the virus is required for preventing persistent CHIKV infection.
PMCID: PMC3723534  PMID: 23936572
15.  Non-competitive antagonism and inverse agonism as mechanism of action of non-peptidergic antagonists at primate and rodent CXCR3 chemokine receptors 
The chemokine receptor CXCR3 is involved in various inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and allograft rejection in transplantation patients. The CXCR3 ligands CXCL9, CXCL10 and CXCL11 are expressed at sites of inflammation and attract CXCR3-expressing lymphocytes, thus contributing to the inflammatory process. Here, we characterize 5 non-peptidergic compounds of different chemical classes that block the action of CXCL10 and CXCL11 at the human CXCR3, i.e. VUF10472/NBI-74330, VUF10085/AMG-487, VUF5834, VUF10132 and TAK-779. In order to understand the action of these CXCR3 antagonists in various animal models of disease, the compounds were also tested at rat and mouse CXCR3, as well as at CXCR3 from rhesus macaque, cloned and characterized for the first time in this study. Except for TAK-779, all compounds show slightly lower affinity for rodent CXCR3 than for primate CXCR3. Additionally, we have characterized the molecular mechanism of action of the various antagonists at the human CXCR3 receptor. All tested compounds act as noncompetitive antagonists at CXCR3. Moreover, this non-competitive behavior is accompanied by inverse agonistic properties of all 5 compounds as determined on an identified constitutively active mutant of CXCR3, CXCR3 N3.35A. Interestingly, all compounds except TAK-779 act as full inverse agonists at CXCR3 N3.35A. TAK-779 shows weak partial inverse agonism at CXCR3 N3.35A, and likely has a different mode of interaction with CXCR3 than the other three classes of small molecule inverse agonists.
PMCID: PMC3659174  PMID: 18270317
16.  Cytomegalovirus CC Chemokine Promotes Immune Cell Migration 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(21):11833-11844.
Cytomegaloviruses manipulate the host chemokine/receptor axis by altering cellular chemokine expression and by encoding multiple chemokines and chemokine receptors. Similar to human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), rat cytomegalovirus (RCMV) encodes multiple CC chemokine-analogous proteins, including r129 (HCMV UL128 homologue) and r131 (HCMV UL130 and MCMV m129/130 homologues). Although these proteins play a role in CMV entry, their function as chemotactic cytokines remains unknown. In the current study, we examined the role of the RCMV chemokine r129 in promoting cellular migration and in accelerating transplant vascular sclerosis (TVS) in our rat heart transplant model. We determined that r129 protein is released into culture supernatants of infected cells and is expressed with late viral gene kinetics during RCMV infection and highly expressed in heart and salivary glands during in vivo rat infections. Using the recombinant r129 protein, we demonstrated that r129 induces migration of lymphocytes isolated from rat peripheral blood, spleen, and bone marrow and from a rat macrophage cell line. Using antibody-mediated cell sorting of rat splenocytes, we demonstrated that r129 induces migration of naïve/central memory CD4+ T cells. Through ligand-binding assays, we determined that r129 binds rat CC chemokine receptors CCR3, CCR4, CCR5, and CCR7. In addition, mutational analyses identified functional domains of r129 resulting in recombinant proteins that fail to induce migration (r129-ΔNT and -C31A) or alter the chemotactic ability of the chemokine (r129-F43A). Two of the mutant proteins (r129-C31A and -ΔNT) also act as dominant negatives by inhibiting migration induced by wild-type r129. Furthermore, infection of rat heart transplant recipients with RCMV containing the r129-ΔNT mutation prevented CMV-induced acceleration of TVS. Together our findings indicate that RCMV r129 is highly chemotactic, which has important implications during RCMV infection and reactivation and acceleration of TVS.
PMCID: PMC3486311  PMID: 22915808
17.  Simian Varicella Virus Gene Expression During Acute and Latent Infection of Rhesus Macaques 
Journal of Neurovirology  2011;17(6):600-612.
Varicella zoster virus (VZV) is a neurotropic α-herpesvirus that causes chickenpox during primary infection and establishes latency in sensory ganglia. Reactivation of VZV results in herpes zoster and other neurological complications. Our understanding of the VZV transcriptome during acute and latent infection in immune competent individuals remains incomplete. Infection of rhesus macaques with the homologous simian varicella virus (SVV) recapitulates the hallmarks of VZV infection. We therefore characterized the SVV transcriptome by quantitative real-time reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-qPCR) during acute infection in bronchial alveolar lavage (BAL) cells and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), and during latency in sensory ganglia obtained from the same rhesus macaques. During acute infection, all known SVV open reading frames (ORFs) were detected and the most abundantly expressed ORFs are involved in virus replication and assembly such as the transcriptional activator ORF 63 and the structural proteins ORF 41 and ORF 49. In contrast, latent SVV gene expression is highly restricted. ORF 61, a viral transactivator and latency-associated transcript, is the most prevalent transcript detected in sensory ganglia. We also detected ORFs A, B, 4, 10, 63, 64, 65, 66 and 68 though significantly less frequently than ORF 61. This comprehensive analysis has revealed genes that potentially play a role in the establishment and/or maintenance of SVV latency.
PMCID: PMC3286235  PMID: 22052378
Herpesvirus; simian varicella virus; gene expression; latency; rhesus macaque
18.  Acceleration of Allograft Failure by Cytomegalovirus 
Current opinion in immunology  2007;19(5):577-582.
A number of human herpes viruses are important opportunistic pathogens that have been associated with increased morbidity and mortality in transplant recipients including human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), HHV6, HHV7, HHV8 as well as HSV-1, VZV. However, HCMV has been linked both epidemiologically and through the use of animal models to the acceleration of acute and chronic allograft rejection. This review will cover the pathophysiology, epidemiology and mechanisms of CMV-associated disease in the setting of transplantation.
PMCID: PMC3509935  PMID: 17716883
19.  Human Cytomegalovirus US28: A Functionally Selective Chemokine Binding Receptor 
The Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV)-encoded chemokine receptor US28 is the most well-characterized of the four chemokine receptor-like molecules found in the HCMV genome. US28 been studied as an important virulence factor for HCMV-mediated vascular disease and, more recently, in models of HCMV-associated malignancy. US28 is a rare multi-chemokine family binding receptor with the ability to bind ligands from two distinct chemokine classes. Ligand binding to US28 activates cell-type and ligand-specific signaling pathways leading to cellular migration, an example receptor functional selectivity. Additionally, US28 has been demonstrated to constitutively activate PLC and NFkB. Understanding the structure/function relationships between US28, its ligands and intracellular signaling molecules will provide essential clues for effective pharmacological targeting this multifunctional chemokine receptor.
PMCID: PMC3496389  PMID: 19594424
20.  Cytomegalovirus Latency Promotes Cardiac Lymphoid Neogenesis and Accelerated Allograft Rejection in CMV Naïve Recipients 
Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection is associated with the acceleration of transplant vascular sclerosis (TVS) and chronic allograft rejection (CR). HCMV-negative recipients of latently HCMV infected donor grafts are at highest risk for developing CMV-disease. Using a rat heart transplant CR model, we have previously shown that acute rat CMV (RCMV) infection following transplantation significantly accelerates both TVS and CR. Here, we report that RCMV-naïve recipients of heart allografts from latently RCMV-infected donors undergo acceleration of CR with similar kinetics as acutely infected recipients. In contrast to acutely infected recipients, treatment of recipients of latently infected donor hearts with ganciclovir did not prevent CR or TVS. We observed the formation of tertiary lymphoid structures (TLOs) containing macrophages and T-cells in latently infected hearts prior to transplantation but not in uninfected rats. Moreover, pathway analysis of gene expression data from allografts from latently infected donors, indicated an early and sustained production of TLO-associated genes compared to allografts from uninfected donors. We conclude that RCMV-induced TLO formation and alteration of donor tissue T-cell profiles prior to transplantation in part mediate the ganciclovir-insensitive rejection of latently infected donor allografts transplanted into naïve recipients by providing a scaffold for immune activation.
PMCID: PMC3454525  PMID: 21199347
Cytomegalovirus; Chronic Rejection; Transplant Vascular Sclerosis; Latency
21.  The Role of Cytomegalovirus in Angiogenesis 
Virus research  2010;157(2):204-211.
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection has been associated with the acceleration of vascular disease including atherosclerosis and transplant associated vasculopathy in solid organ transplants. HCMV promotes vascular disease at many of the different stages of the disease development. These include the initial injury phase, enhancing the response to injury and inflammation, as well as by increasing SMC hyperplasia and foamy macrophage cell formation. Angiogenesis is a critical process involved in the development of vascular diseases. Recently, HCMV has been shown to induce angiogenesis and this process is thought to contribute to HCMV-accelerated vascular disease and may also be important for HCMV-enhanced tumor formation. This review will highlight the role of HCMV in promoting angiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3040784  PMID: 20869406
22.  A Novel Human Cytomegalovirus Locus Modulates Cell Type-Specific Outcomes of Infection 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(12):e1002444.
Clinical strains of HCMV encode 20 putative ORFs within a region of the genome termed ULb′ that are postulated to encode functions related to persistence or immune evasion. We have previously identified ULb′-encoded pUL138 as necessary, but not sufficient, for HCMV latency in CD34+ hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) infected in vitro. pUL138 is encoded on polycistronic transcripts that also encode 3 additional proteins, pUL133, pUL135, and pUL136, collectively comprising the UL133-UL138 locus. This work represents the first characterization of these proteins and identifies a role for this locus in infection. Similar to pUL138, pUL133, pUL135, and pUL136 are integral membrane proteins that partially co-localized with pUL138 in the Golgi during productive infection in fibroblasts. As expected of ULb′ sequences, the UL133-UL138 locus was dispensable for replication in cultured fibroblasts. In CD34+ HPCs, this locus suppressed viral replication in HPCs, an activity attributable to both pUL133 and pUL138. Strikingly, the UL133-UL138 locus was required for efficient replication in endothelial cells. The association of this locus with three context-dependent phenotypes suggests an exciting role for the UL133-UL138 locus in modulating the outcome of viral infection in different contexts of infection. Differential profiles of protein expression from the UL133-UL138 locus correlated with the cell-type dependent phenotypes associated with this locus. We extended our in vitro findings to analyze viral replication and dissemination in a NOD-scid IL2Rγcnull-humanized mouse model. The UL133-UL138NULL virus exhibited an increased capacity for replication and/or dissemination following stem cell mobilization relative to the wild-type virus, suggesting an important role in viral persistence and spread in the host. As pUL133, pUL135, pUL136, and pUL138 are conserved in virus strains infecting higher order primates, but not lower order mammals, the functions encoded likely represent host-specific viral adaptations.
Author Summary
Human cytomegalovirus is a ubiquitous herpesvirus that, like all herpesviruses, establishes a life long relationship with its host through a latent infection. The molecular basis of viral latency is poorly understood, in part, because viral determinants of latency and the corresponding virus-host interactions are not well defined. We have identified a polycistronic locus encoding the pUL138 latency determinant, as well as three previously uncharacterized proteins, pUL133, pUL135, and pUL136. We have characterized this novel locus, the proteins it encodes and demonstrated the role of the locus in modulating viral replication depending on the context of infection. While this locus is dispensable for productive replication in fibroblasts, it adversely impacts virus replication in primary hematopoietic cells, suggesting a role in establishing latency. Surprisingly, the locus is required for efficient replication in primary human endothelial cells. To our knowledge this is the first demonstration of a viral locus that can have positive, negative, or null effects on viral replication depending on the context of infection. Our work defines exciting new primate strain-specific determinants mediating viral replication and latency and exemplifies the complex nature of virus-host interactions in cytomegalovirus infection.
PMCID: PMC3248471  PMID: 22241980
23.  Polymeric PARACEST MRI contrast agents as potential reporters for gene therapy† 
Organic & biomolecular chemistry  2010;8(23):5333-5338.
Gene therapy is a potentially powerful treatment approach that targets molecular remedies for disease. Among other challenges it remains difficult to monitor gene delivery and its downstream metabolic consequences. Approaches to MRI gene reporters have been reported but few have the potential for translation beyond isolated cell systems. Herein, we report a polycationic polymer MRI contrast agent that binds to DNA in a ratio of one monomer unit per phosphate group of DNA. Significantly, this binding event diminishes the MR contrast signal from the agent itself potentially providing a platform for imaging delivery and release of a gene into cells and tissues. Importantly, we demonstrate here the proof of concept that a positively charged polymeric contrast agent can also act as a transfection agent, delivering the gene for encoding green fluorescent protein into cells. These observations provide support for the radical, new idea of creating a combined transfection/imaging agent for monitoring gene delivery in real time by MRI.
PMCID: PMC3033776  PMID: 20848030
24.  G-CSF Reactivates Human Cytomegalovirus in a Latently Infected Humanized Mouse Model 
Cell host & microbe  2010;8(3):284-291.
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) continues to be a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in organ transplant recipients despite the availability of antiviral therapy. Considerable controversy exists regarding the use of granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) mobilized blood products from HCMV seropositive donors during stem cell transplantation (SCT) and in patients receiving granulocyte transfusions to treat neutropenia. In order to understand mechanisms of HCMV transmission to patients receiving G-CSF mobilized blood products, we generated a novel NOD-scid IL2Rγcnull humanized mouse model in which HCMV establishes a latent infection in human hematopoietic lineage cells. In this model, G-CSF induces the reactivation of latent HCMV in monocytes/macrophages that have migrated into organ tissues. These results suggest that the use of G-CSF mobilized blood products from seropositive donors pose an elevated risk for HCMV transmission to recipients.
PMCID: PMC2945885  PMID: 20833379
25.  Cytomegalovirus MicroRNA Expression Is Tissue Specific and Is Associated with Persistence ▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;85(1):378-389.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small noncoding RNAs involved in posttranscriptional regulation. miRNAs are utilized in organisms ranging from plants to higher mammals, and data have shown that DNA viruses also use this method for host and viral gene regulation. Here, we report the sequencing of the small RNAs in rat cytomegalovirus (RCMV)-infected fibroblasts and persistently infected salivary glands. We identified 24 unique miRNAs that mapped to hairpin structures found within the viral genome. While most miRNAs were detected in both samples, four were detected exclusively in the infected fibroblasts and two were specific for the infected salivary glands. The RCMV miRNAs are distributed across the viral genome on both the positive and negative strands, with clusters of miRNAs at a number of locations, including near viral genes r1 and r111. The RCMV miRNAs have a genomic positional orientation similar to that of the miRNAs described for mouse cytomegalovirus, but they do not share any substantial sequence conservation. Similar to other reported miRNAs, the RCMV miRNAs had considerable variation at their 3′ and 5′ ends. Interestingly, we found a number of specific examples of differential isoform usage between the fibroblast and salivary gland samples. We determined by real-time PCR that expression of the RCMV miRNA miR-r111.1-2 is highly expressed in the salivary glands and that miR-R87-1 is expressed in most tissues during the acute infection phase. Our study identified the miRNAs expressed by RCMV in vitro and in vivo and demonstrated that expression is tissue specific and associated with a stage of viral infection.
PMCID: PMC3014154  PMID: 20980502

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