Varicella zoster virus (VZV) is a neurotropic alphaherpesvirus that causes chickenpox during primary infection and establishes latency in sensory ganglia. Infection of rhesus macaques (RM) with the homologous simian varicella virus (SVV) recapitulates hallmarks of VZV infection. We have shown that an antisense transcript of SVV open reading frame 61 (ORF61), a viral transactivator, was detected most frequently in latently infected RM sensory ganglia. In this study, we compared disease progression, viral replication, immune response, and the establishment of latency following intrabronchial infection with a recombinant SVV lacking ORF61 (SVVΔORF61) to those following infection with wild-type (WT) SVV. Varicella severity and viral latency within sensory ganglia were comparable in RMs infected with SVVΔORF61 and WT SVV. In contrast, viral loads, B and T cell responses, and plasma inflammatory cytokine levels were decreased in RMs infected with SVVΔORF61. To investigate the mechanisms underlying the reduced adaptive immune response, we compared acute SVV gene expression, frequency and proliferation of dendritic cell (DC) subsets, and the expression of innate antiviral genes in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) samples. The abundance of SVV transcripts in all kinetic classes was significantly decreased in RMs infected with SVVΔORF61. In addition, we detected a higher frequency and proliferation of plasmacytoid dendritic cells in BAL fluid at 3 days postinfection in RMs infected with SVVΔORF61, which was accompanied by a slight increase in type I interferon gene expression. Taken together, our data suggest that ORF61 plays an important role in orchestrating viral gene expression in vivo and interferes with the host antiviral interferon response.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science