Prolonged persistence of measles virus RNA is characteristic of primary infection dynamics

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 11;109(37):14989-94. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211138109. Epub 2012 Aug 7.


Measles virus (MeV) is the poster child for acute infection followed by lifelong immunity. However, recent work shows the presence of MeV RNA in multiple sites for up to 3 mo after infection in a proportion of infected children. Here, we use experimental infection of rhesus macaques to show that prolonged RNA presence is characteristic of primary infection. We found that viral RNA persisted in the blood, respiratory tract, or lymph nodes four to five times longer than the infectious virus and that the clearance of MeV RNA from blood happened in three phases: rapid decline coincident with clearance of infectious virus, a rebound phase with increases up to 10-fold, and a phase of slow decrease to undetectable levels. To examine the effect of individual host immune factors on MeV load dynamics further, we developed a mathematical model that expressed viral replication and elimination in terms of the strength of MeV-specific T-cell responses, antibody responses, target cell limitations, and immunosuppressive activity of regulatory T cells. Based on the model, we demonstrate that viral dynamics, although initially regulated by T cells, require antibody to eliminate viral RNA. These results have profound consequences for our view of acute viral infections, the development of prolonged immunity, and, potentially, viral evolution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Lymph Nodes / virology
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Measles / immunology*
  • Measles / virology*
  • Measles virus / genetics*
  • Measles virus / immunology
  • Models, Immunological*
  • Nucleocapsid Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA, Viral / blood
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism*
  • Respiratory System / virology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • Viral Load
  • Virus Replication / physiology


  • Nucleocapsid Proteins
  • RNA, Viral