Objectives: To study the effect of cell differentiation on the vulnerability of human neural cell types to human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection.
Study design/methods: Primary cultures of human fetal neuroepithelial stem cells and differentiating neuroepithelial precursor cells were infected with HCMV strain AD169. Infectious virus production, apoptosis, and viral-associated cytopathic effects then were examined over a 5-day period.
Results: HCMV established productive infection in these cells, generating 10-fold amplification of infectious virus. There was no significant difference in the percentage of apoptotic cells in HCMV-infected versus mock-infected cultures. HCMV antigen and specific cytopathic effects were observed in differentiating astrocytes and neurons, although HCMV antigen was 2-fold more frequent among postmitotic neurons.
Conclusions: Neuroepithelial precursor cells and differentiating astrocytes and neurons are permissive to cytopathic HCMV infection, suggesting that the fetal human central nervous system is vulnerable to HCMV-induced neuronal injury at its earliest stages of development.