Viral persistence is the rule following infection with all herpesviruses. The β-herpesvirus, human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), persists through chronic and latent states of infection. Both of these states of infection contribute to HCMV persistence and to the high HCMV seroprevalence worldwide. The chronic infection is poorly defined molecularly, but clinically manifests as low-level virus shedding over extended periods of time and often in the absence of symptoms. Latency requires long-term maintenance of viral genomes in a reversibly quiescent state in the immunocompetent host. In this review, we focus on recent advances in the biology of HCMV persistence, particularly with respect to the latent mode of persistence. Latently infected individuals harbour HCMV genomes in haematopoietic cells and maintain large subsets of HCMV-specific T-cells. In the last few years, impressive advances have been made in understanding virus-host interactions important to HCMV infection, many of which will profoundly impact HCMV persistence. We discuss these advances and their known or potential impact on viral latency. As herpesviruses are met with similar challenges in achieving latency and often employ conserved strategies to persist, we discuss current and future directions of HCMV persistence in the context of the greater body of knowledge regarding α- and γ-herpesviruses persistence.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.