Congenital human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection is a common cause of deafness and neurological disabilities. Many aspects of this prenatal infection, including which cell types are infected and how infection proceeds, are poorly understood. Transcription of HCMV immediate-early (IE) genes is required for expression of all other HCMV genes and is dependent on host cell transcription factors. Cell type-specific differences in levels of IE transcription are believed to underlie differences in infection permissivity. However, DNA transfection experiments have paradoxically suggested that the HCMV major IE enhancer/promoter is a broadly active transcriptional element with little cell type specificity. In contrast, we show here that expression of a lacZ gene driven by the HCMV major IE enhancer/promoter -524 to +13 segment is restricted in transgenic mouse embryos to sites that correlate with known sites of congenital HCMV infection in human fetuses. This finding suggests that the IE enhancer/promoter is a major determinant of HCMV infection sites in humans and that transcription factors responsible for its regulation are cell type-specifically conserved between humans and mice. The lacZ expression patterns of these transgenic embryos yield insight into congenital HCMV pathogenesis by providing a spatiotemporal map of the sets of vascular, neural, and epithelial cells that are likely targets of infection. These transgenic mice may constitute a useful model system for investigating IE enhancer/promoter regulation in vivo and for identifying factors that modulate active and latent HCMV infections in humans.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science