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Intrabronchial Infection of Rhesus Macaques with Simian Varicella Virus Results in a Robust Immune Response in the Lungs



Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is the etiological agent of varicella (chickenpox) and herpes zoster (shingles). Primary VZV infection is believed to occur via the inhalation of virus either in respiratory droplets or from shedding varicella lesions or by direct contact with infectious vesicular fluid. However, the ensuing immune response in the lungs remains incompletely understood. We have shown that intrabronchial inoculation of rhesus macaques with simian varicella virus (SVV), a homolog of VZV, recapitulates the hallmarks of acute and latent VZV infection in humans. In this study, we performed an in-depth analysis of the host immune response to acute SVV infection in the lungs and peripheral blood. We report that acute SVV infection results in a robust innate immune response in the lungs, characterized by the production of inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors as well as an increased frequency of plasmacytoid dendritic cells (DCs) that corresponded with alpha interferon (IFN-α) production and a rapid decrease in viral loads in the lungs. This is followed by T and B cell proliferation, antibody production, T cell differentiation, and cytokine production, which correlate with the complete cessation of viral replication. Although terminally differentiated CD8 T cells became the predominant T cell population in bronchoalveolar lavage cells, a higher percentage of CD4 T cells were SVV specific, which suggests a critical role for these cells in the resolution of primary SVV infection in the lungs. Given the homology between SVV and VZV, our data provide insight into the immune response to VZV within the lung.


Although primary VZV infection occurs primarily via the respiratory route, the host response in the lungs and its contribution to the cessation of viral replication and establishment of latency remain poorly understood. The difficulty in accessing lung tissue and washes from individuals infected with VZV has hampered efforts to address this knowledge gap. SVV infection of rhesus macaques is an important model of VZV infection of humans; therefore, we utilized this animal model to gain a comprehensive view of the kinetics of the immune response to SVV in the lung and its relationship to the resolution of acute infection in respiratory tissues. These data not only advance our understanding of host immunity to VZV, a critical step in developing new vaccines, but also provide additional insight into immunity to respiratory pathogens.

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