Measles virus, immune control, and persistence

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2012 May;36(3):649-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2012.00330.x. Epub 2012 Mar 13.


Measles remains one of the most important causes of child morbidity and mortality worldwide with the greatest burden in the youngest children. Most acute measles deaths are owing to secondary infections that result from a poorly understood measles-induced suppression of immune responses. Young children are also vulnerable to late development of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, a progressive, uniformly fatal neurologic disease caused by persistent measles virus (MeV) infection. During acute infection, the rash marks the appearance of the adaptive immune response and CD8(+) T cell-mediated clearance of infectious virus. However, after clearance of infectious virus, MeV RNA persists and can be detected in blood, respiratory secretions, urine, and lymphoid tissue for many weeks to months. This prolonged period of virus clearance may help to explain measles immunosuppression and the development of lifelong immunity to re-infection, as well as occasional infection of the nervous system. Once MeV infects neurons, the virus can spread trans-synaptically and the envelope proteins needed to form infectious virus are unnecessary, accumulate mutations, and can establish persistent infection. Identification of the immune mechanisms required for the clearance of MeV RNA from multiple sites will enlighten our understanding of the development of disease owing to persistent infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Exanthema / immunology
  • Exanthema / virology
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance*
  • Measles / immunology*
  • Measles / pathology*
  • Measles / virology
  • Measles virus / immunology*
  • Measles virus / pathogenicity*
  • RNA, Viral / isolation & purification


  • RNA, Viral