Persistent viral infections

17 March 2009

persistence-of-memoryIn contrast to acute viral infections, persistent infections last for long periods, and occur when the primary infection is not cleared by the adaptive immune response. Varicella-zoster virus, measles virus, HIV-1, and human cytomegalovirus are examples of viruses that cause typical persistent infections. A chronic infection is a type of persistent infection that is eventually cleared, while latent or slow infections last the life of the host.

There is no single mechanism responsible for establishing a persistent infection; a key feature is reduction in host defenses and the ability of the virus to kill cells. Many arenaviruses, such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, do not kill cells and will cause a persistent infection if the host cannot clear the virus. In some persistent viral infections there are alternate cycles of virion production and quiescence. An example is Epstein-Barr virus, the agent of infectious mononucleosis. After the initial bout of fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph glands, the virus establishes a dormant infection in which the viral genome persists in cells of the immune system. Periodically the infection is reactivated and infectious virions are shed in the absence of clinical symptoms. These reactivations lead to transmission of the infection to new hosts.

Bovine viral diarrhea virus infection is another example of how persistence is regulated by the interplay of the host immune response and viral cell killing. This virus establishes a lifelong persistent infection in most of the world’s cattle. The infected animals produce no detectable anti-viral antibody or T-cells. The virus is passed from the mother to fetus early in gestation. Infection does not stimulate the production of interferon (IFN), and therefore the adaptive immune system is not activated. Because infection does not kill cells, a persistent infection ensues.

Many infections persist because viral replication interferes with the function of cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTLs), immune cells that are extremely important for clearing viral infections. Infected cells are recognized when CTLs detect viral antigens on the cell surface. This recognition process requires presentation of the viral peptides by major histocompatibilty complex (MHC) class I proteins. Many viral proteins interfere with different steps of the MHC class I pathway, including the synthesis, processing, and trafficking of the protein. Even transport to the cell surface of viral peptides – produced from viral proteins by the large protein complex known as the proteasome – may be blocked.

An amazing example of such immune modulation occurs in cells infected with cytomegalovirus (CMV). This betaherpesvirus causes a common childhood infection of little consequence in healthy individuals. The infection is never cleared, and the virus persistently infects salivary and mammary glands and the kidney. When latently infected individuals are immunosuppressed by drugs or HIV infection, viral replication ensues with life-threatening consequences. CMV persists in the host because the viral genome encodes multiple proteins that interfere with MHC class I presentation of viral antigens. One viral protein blocks translocation of peptides into the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum, while two other viral proteins cause degradation of MHC class I proteins before they reach the cell surface.

There are many more examples of how virus infections modulate the immune response, leading to persistent infection. Not surprisingly, many of the processing or regulatory steps that are targets of viral modulation were not even known until it was discovered that they were blocked by virus infection.

Peterhans, E. (2003). BVDV and innate immunity Biologicals, 31 (2), 107-112 DOI: 10.1016/S1045-1056(03)00024-1

Bornkamm, G. (2006). The infectious kiss: Newly infected B cells deliver Epstein-Barr virus to epithelial cells Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103 (19), 7201-7202 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0602077103

WIERTZ, E. (1996). The Human Cytomegalovirus US11 Gene Product Dislocates MHC Class I Heavy Chains from the Endoplasmic Reticulum to the Cytosol Cell, 84 (5), 769-779 DOI: 10.1016/S0092-8674(00)81054-5

  • NB

    Although the mechanisms by which viruses produce persistent infection are not completely understood, some common factors have been identified.

    The first is immune modulation. Many viruses that cause persistent infection avoid the specific and nonspecific immune defenses in several ways. Examples include:

    1. Limitation of recognition molecules on infected cells:
    a. Restricted expression of viral antigens (e.g., HIV, measles virus in subacute sclerosing panencephalitis).

    b. Antiviral antibody-induced internalization and modulation of viral antigens (e.g., measles virus).

    c. Viral antigenic variation (e.g., HIV).

    d. Blocking antibody that prevents the binding of neutralizing antibody (e.g., measles virus).

    e. Decreased expression of cell major histocompatibility complex recognition molecules (e.g., CMV, adenoviruses).

    f. Restricted expression of the cell adhesion molecules LFA-3 and ICAM-1 (e.g., EBV, CMV).

    2. Altered lymphocyte and macrophage functions, including modified production of cytokines and immunosuppression (e.g., HIV-1, HIV-2, EBV).

    3. Infection in immunologically privileged anatomic sites (e.g., HSV-1, HSV-2, VZV in the central nervous system).

    4. Compromised nonspecific defenses (e.g., interferon).

    Three types of persistent infection can be distinguished in cultured cells:
    1. chronic focal infection (carrier culture), only a small portion of the cell population is infected. These cells release virus and are killed. Low concentrations of antiviral substances (e.g., antibody, interferon) reduce extracellular virus to a low level so that only a small number of susceptible cells are infected at any time, maintaining the infection. Such chronic focal persistent infections can be “cured” by increasing the concentration of antiviral antibody, interferon, or nonspecific inhibitor.

    2. chronic diffuse infections (steady-state infections), all of the cells are infected and both virus and cell multiplication proceed without the cells being killed. Virus is continually released from the cells, and the infection cannot be eliminated by antiviral antibodies.

    3. The third type is the so-called true latent infection, in which the viral genome is replicated and segregated to the daughter cells either within the chromosomes or extrachromosomally. There is no known controlling mechanism for “true latent infection”

  • NB

    -Medical Microbiology- Samuel Barron 4th Edition

  • ET

    3. The third type is the so-called true latent infection, in which the viral genome is replicated and segregated to the daughter cells either {within the chromosomes}…

    This is the origin of HERVs isnt it? How could a true latent infection ever actually be recognized then, if there is no concommittant pathology?

  • ET

    “concomitant”-sorry…Will try to make my spelling much more gooder!

  • NB

    Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute ~8% of the human genome and its origin is assumed to be from the retroviral infection during primate evolution. Due to the mutations in their structural genes, most HERVs are unable to replicate but some specific open reading frames corresponding to HERV genes encode detectable proteins.
    Although the origin of HERVs started as a latent infection it cannot be considered as a true latent infection anymore because of their inability to replicate and cause disease. Expression of HERV genes may be important in modulating host innate and adaptive immune responses with ensuing effects on the development of disease, although definitive proof of specific pathogenic effects linked to HERVs is lacking.
    To be considered as a true latent infection, the expression of viral genes should lead to the development of disease.
    The mechanisms by which viral reactivation occur are poorly understood at present.

    -Nature Neuroscience 7, 1088 – 1095 (2004)

  • NB

    Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute ~8% of the human genome and its origin is assumed to be from the retroviral infection during primate evolution. Due to the mutations in their structural genes, most HERVs are unable to replicate but some specific open reading frames corresponding to HERV genes encode detectable proteins.
    Although the origin of HERVs started as a latent infection it cannot be considered as a true latent infection anymore because of their inability to replicate and cause disease. Expression of HERV genes may be important in modulating host innate and adaptive immune responses with ensuing effects on the development of disease, although definitive proof of specific pathogenic effects linked to HERVs is lacking.
    To be considered as a true latent infection, the expression of viral genes should lead to the development of disease.
    The mechanisms by which viral reactivation occur are poorly understood at present.

    -Nature Neuroscience 7, 1088 – 1095 (2004)

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