Replication in a superficial epithelial cell niche explains the lack of pathogenicity of primate foamy virus infections

Shannon M. Murray, Louis J. Picker, Michael K. Axthelm, Kelly Hudkins, Charles E. Alpers, Maxine L. Linial

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

55 Scopus citations


Foamy viruses (FVs) are ancient retroviruses that are ubiquitous in nonhuman primates (NHPs). While FVs share many features with pathogenic retroviruses, such as human immunodeficiency virus, FV infections of their primate hosts have no apparent pathological consequences. Paradoxically, FV infections of many cell types in vitro are rapidly cytopathic. Previous work has shown that low levels of proviral DNA are found in most tissues of naturally infected rhesus macaques, but these proviruses are primarily latent. In contrast, viral RNA, indicative of viral replication, is restricted to tissues of the oral mucosa, where it is abundant. Here, we perform in situ hybridization on tissues from rhesus macaques naturally infected with simian FV (SFV). We show that superficial differentiated epithelial cells of the oral mucosa, many of which appear to be shedding from the tissue, are the major cell type in which SFV replicates. Thus, the innocuous nature of SFV infection can be explained by replication that is limited to differentiated superficial cells that are short-lived and shed into saliva. This finding can also explain the highly efficient transmission of FVs among NHPs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5981-5985
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 1 2008


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology

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