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Canine distemper virus persistence in demyelinating encephalitis by swift intracellular cell-to-cell spread in astrocytes is controlled by the viral attachment protein

Acta Neuropathologica
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1007/s00401-010-0644-7
  • Original Paper
  • Biology
  • Medicine


The mechanism of viral persistence, the driving force behind the chronic progression of inflammatory demyelination in canine distemper virus (CDV) infection, is associated with non-cytolytic viral cell-to-cell spread. Here, we studied the molecular mechanisms of viral spread of a recombinant fluorescent protein-expressing virulent CDV in primary canine astrocyte cultures. Time-lapse video microscopy documented that CDV spread was very efficient using cell processes contacting remote target cells. Strikingly, CDV transmission to remote cells could occur in less than 6 h, suggesting that a complete viral cycle with production of extracellular free particles was not essential in enabling CDV to spread in glial cells. Titration experiments and electron microscopy confirmed a very low CDV particle production despite higher titers of membrane-associated viruses. Interestingly, confocal laser microscopy and lentivirus transduction indicated expression and functionality of the viral fusion machinery, consisting of the viral fusion (F) and attachment (H) glycoproteins, at the cell surface. Importantly, using a single-cycle infectious recombinant H-knockout, H-complemented virus, we demonstrated that H, and thus potentially the viral fusion complex, was necessary to enable CDV spread. Furthermore, since we could not detect CD150/SLAM expression in brain cells, the presence of a yet non-identified glial receptor for CDV was suggested. Altogether, our findings indicate that persistence in CDV infection results from intracellular cell-to-cell transmission requiring the CDV-H protein. Viral transfer, happening selectively at the tip of astrocytic processes, may help the virus to cover long distances in the astroglial network, “outrunning” the host’s immune response in demyelinating plaques, thus continuously eliciting new lesions.

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