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Human cytomegalovirus reprogrammes haematopoietic progenitor cells into immunosuppressive monocytes to achieve latency


The precise cell type hosting latent human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) remains elusive. Here, we report that HCMV reprogrammes human haematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) into a unique monocyte subset to achieve latency. Unlike conventional monocytes, this monocyte subset possesses higher levels of B7-H4, IL-10 and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), a longer lifespan and strong immunosuppressive capacity. Cell sorting of peripheral blood from latently infected human donors confirms that only this monocyte subset, representing less than 0.1% of peripheral mononuclear cells, is HCMV genome-positive but immediate-early-negative. Mechanistic studies demonstrate that HCMV promotes the differentiation of HPCs into this monocyte subset by activating cellular signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3). In turn, this monocyte subset generates a high level of nitric oxide (NO) to silence HCMV immediate-early transcription and promote viral latency. By contrast, the US28-knockout HCMV mutant, which is incapable of activating STAT3, fails to reprogramme the HPCs and achieve latency. Our findings reveal that via activating the STAT3-iNOS-NO axis, HCMV differentiates human HPCs into a longevous, immunosuppressive monocyte subset for viral latency.

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