Acute measles in patients with and without neurological involvement: distribution of measles virus antigen and RNA

J Infect Dis. 1988 Aug;158(2):433-42. doi: 10.1093/infdis/158.2.433.


Using peroxidase immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization to localize viral antigen and RNA, we studied autopsy tissues from 20 cases of acute fatal human measles (including seven patients with acute encephalomyelitis) and peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 16 patients with acute, nonfatal measles. In immunologically normal patients, virus was detected in five of nine who died five days or less after the onset of rash but in none of 11 who died later. Virus was localized to epithelial cells of lung, gut, bile duct, bladder, and skin and to lymphoid organs. Neither viral antigen nor RNA was detected in brain sections from 14 patients, including seven with acute encephalomyelitis and four with virus identified in other tissues, a finding supporting an indirect pathogenesis of post-measles encephalomyelitis. These data show that measles virus replicates in cells previously not recognized to be involved (capillary endothelium of lymph node and thymus, Hassall's corpuscles, and hepatic duct epithelium) and that invasion of the brain parenchyma during acute measles is uncommon.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Antigens, Viral / analysis*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Encephalomyelitis / etiology
  • Encephalomyelitis / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Infant
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / microbiology
  • Measles / complications
  • Measles / immunology*
  • Measles virus / genetics
  • Measles virus / immunology*
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • RNA, Viral / analysis*


  • Antigens, Viral
  • RNA, Viral