Cytomegalovirus replication in human retinal pigment epithelial cells: Altered expression of viral early proteins

Barbara Detrick, Jean Rhame, Yun Wang, Chandrasekharam N. Nagineni, John J. Hooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Purpose. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) interactions are frequent complications in patients who have undergone kidney and bone marrow transplant and in patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The mechanism by which CMV is activated and replicated within the retina is unknown. The authors evaluated the ability of human CMV to initiate replication in human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells and compared this system with CMV replication in human fibroblasts (HEL-299, MRC-5) and human amnion epithelial (WISH) cells. Methods. Human RPE cells were obtained from donor eyes and propagated in vitro. Cells were infected, and CMV replication was evaluated in three ways: the detection of vital antigen by immunofluorescent, flow cytometry, and Western blot assays; the detection of virus-induced cytopathic effect (cpe), and the detection of infectious virus. Results. No evidence of viral replication in the epithelial (WISH) cells was found. Although CMV does not usually replicate in vitro in epithelial cells, CMV replication was detected in RPE cells. There are a number of distinct differences in CMV replication in RPE cells compared to replication in human fibroblasts. Virus-induced cpe and the production of infectious virus by RPE cells were delayed when compared to virus infection in either HEL or MRC 5 cells. At a multiplicity of infection of 0.1 and 1, cpe and infectious virus yield reached maximum levels at days 4 to 5 in fibroblasts and at days 19 to 46 in RPE cells, respectively. Nevertheless, infectious virus produced by RPE cells (106.5 TCID50/0.1 ml) significantly surpassed levels produced by HEL cells (105.5 TCID50/0.1 ml). The permissive infection in RPE cells consisted of a prolonged period (5 to 6 days) of virus production in the absence of cytopathology. Virus protein expression evaluated by indirect immunofluorescence assays, Western blot analysis, and flow cytometry revealed a delay in viral protein expression in RPE cells compared to viral protein expression in fibroblasts. The pattern of viral protein evaluated by flow cytometry was noticeably different in the two cell types. At the middle phase of CMV replication in RPE cells, a low percentage of cells express immediate early (IE) protein at a time when a high percentage of the cells express early (E) proteins. This IE-1 protein is a stable protein found concurrently with E protein in fibroblasts. This difference in percentage of cells expressing specific CMV proteins is transient, that is, it does not remain apparent at 100% cpe. Conclusions. Retinal pigment epithelial cells appear to demonstrate a distinct pattern of CMV infection. The low frequency of expression of IE viral protein in RPE cells, the subsequent slow replication of CMV, and the altered expression of IE vital proteins may be critical variables that impact on their relationship to viral persistence and activation within the retina. Alterations in the IE gent product may indicate the existence of positive or negative nuclear transcription factors within infected RPE cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)814-825
Number of pages12
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 23 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • cytomegalovirus
  • flow cytometry
  • immediate early genes
  • retinal pigment epithelium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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