Frequent coinfection of cells explains functional in vivo complementation between cytomegalovirus variants in the multiply infected host.

Research paper by Luka L Cicin-Sain, Jürgen J Podlech, Martin M Messerle, Matthias J MJ Reddehase, Ulrich H UH Koszinowski

Indexed on: 15 Jul '05Published on: 15 Jul '05Published in: Journal of virology


In contrast to many other virus infections, primary cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection does not fully protect against reinfection. Accordingly, clinical data have revealed a coexistence of multiple human CMV variants/strains in individual patients. Notably, the phenomenon of multiple infection was found to correlate with increased virus load and severity of CMV disease. Although of obvious medical relevance, the mechanism underlying this correlation is unknown. A weak immune response in an individual could be responsible for a more severe disease and for multiple infections. Alternatively, synergistic contributions of variants that differ in their biological properties can lead to qualitative changes in viral fitness by direct interactions such as genetic recombination or functional complementation within coinfected host cells. We have addressed this important question paradigmatically with the murine model by differently designed combinations of two viruses employed for experimental coinfection of mice. Specifically, a murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) mutant expressing Cre recombinase was combined for coinfection with a mutant carrying Cre-inducible green fluorescent protein gene, and attenuated mutants were combined for coinfection with wild-type virus followed by two-color in situ hybridization studies visualizing the replication of the two viruses in infected host organs. These different approaches concurred in the conclusion that coinfection of host cells is more frequent than statistically predicted and that this coinfection alters virus fitness by functional trans-complementation rather than by genetic recombination. The reported findings make a major contribution to our molecular understanding of enhanced CMV pathogenicity in the multiply infected host.