Human cytomegalovirus (CMV) dysregulates neurodevelopmental pathways in cerebral organoids

Commun Biol. 2024 Mar 19;7(1):340. doi: 10.1038/s42003-024-05923-1.


Human cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is the leading non-genetic aetiology of congenital malformation in developed countries, causing significant fetal neurological injury. This study investigated potential CMV pathogenetic mechanisms of fetal neural malformation using in vitro human cerebral organoids. Cerebral organoids were permissive to CMV replication, and infection dysregulated cellular pluripotency and differentiation pathways. Aberrant expression of dual-specificity tyrosine phosphorylation-regulated kinases (DYRK), sonic hedgehog (SHH), pluripotency, neurodegeneration, axon guidance, hippo signalling and dopaminergic synapse pathways were observed in CMV-infected organoids using immunofluorescence and RNA-sequencing. Infection with CMV resulted in dysregulation of 236 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)-related genes (p = 1.57E-05) and pathways. This notable observation suggests potential links between congenital CMV infection and ASD. Using DisGeNET databases, 103 diseases related to neural malformation or mental disorders were enriched in CMV-infected organoids. Cytomegalovirus infection-related dysregulation of key cerebral cellular pathways potentially provides important, modifiable pathogenetic mechanisms for congenital CMV-induced neural malformation and ASD.

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / genetics
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / metabolism
  • Cytomegalovirus / physiology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections* / congenital
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections* / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases*
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Organoids / metabolism


  • Hedgehog Proteins