Primary differentiated respiratory epithelial cells respond to apical measles virus infection by shedding multinucleated giant cells

W. Lin Wen-Hsuan, Annie J. Tsay, Erin N. Lalime, Andrew Pekosz, Diane E. Griffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Measles virus (MeV) is highly infectious by the respiratory route and remains an important cause of childhood mortality. However, the process by which MeV infection is efficiently established in the respiratory tract is controversial with suggestions that respiratory epithelial cells are not susceptible to infection from the apical mucosal surface. Therefore, it has been hypothesized that infection is initiated in lung macrophages or dendritic cells and that epithelial infection is subsequently established through the basolateral surface by infected lymphocytes. To better understand the process of respiratory tract initiation of MeV infection, primary differentiated respiratory epithelial cell cultures were established from rhesus macaque tracheal and nasal tissues. Infection of these cultures with MeV from the apical surface was more efficient than from the basolateral surface with shedding of viable MeVproducing multinucleated giant cell (MGC) syncytia from the surface. Despite presence of MGCs and infectious virus in supernatant fluids after apical infection, infected cells were not detected in the adherent epithelial sheet and transepithelial electrical resistance was maintained. After infection from the basolateral surface, epithelial damage and large clusters of MeV-positive cells were observed. Treatment with fusion inhibitory peptides showed that MeV production after apical infection was not dependent on infection of the basolateral surface. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that MeV infection is initiated by apical infection of respiratory epithelial cells with subsequent infection of lymphoid tissue and systemic spread.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2013264118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 16 2021


  • Infected cell shedding
  • Primary airway cells
  • Rhesus macaque

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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