Slow, persistent replication of lentiviruses: Role of tissue macrophages and macrophage precursors in bone marrow

H. E. Gendelman, O. Narayan, S. Molineaux, J. E. Clements, Z. Ghotbi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lentiviruses, as exemplified by visna virus of sheep, are nononcogenic retroviruses that cause slowly progressive diseases after prolonged periods of incubation. Earlier studies on visna have shown that the long incubation period of the disease is associated with constant production of minimal quantities of virus in tissues, whereas virus could be obtained by culturing monocytes and macrophages from explants of lymphatic tissues and inflamed organs. In this study the role of macrophages in lentivirus infection was explored using two sheep that were intrabronchially inoculated with virus. When sections of paraffin-embedded tissue, processed by a recently described technique which combines immunocytochemistry for the identification of macrophages and in situ hybridization for identification of viral nucleic acid, were examined, we found that virus replication is associated almost exclusively with infection in selected populations of macrophages in the interalveolar region of the alveoli, in inflammatory exudate cells in the lung, in lymph nodes, and in the spleen. Although large numbers of alveolar macrophages had viral RNA, few of these cells produced virus. While this minimally productive type of viral replication provides an explanation for the slow pace of the infection, restricted replication in terminally differentiated, short-lived macrophages does not explain persistent virus replication in the animal. With the discovery of clusters of infected macrophage precursors in the bone marrow, a mechanism for persistence was found. The macrophage precursor cells provide an important missing link in the virus-target-cell circuit and may be the reservoir of latently infected cells which perpetuate lentivirus infections in both animals and humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7086-7090
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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