To characterize the importance of infection of epithelial cells for morbillivirus pathogenesis, we took advantage of the severe disease caused by canine distemper virus (CDV) in ferrets. To obtain a CDV that was unable to enter epithelial cells but retained the ability to enter immune cells, we transferred to its attachment (H) protein two mutations shown to interfere with the interaction of measles virus H with its epithelial receptor, human nectin-4. As expected for an epithelial receptor (EpR)-blind CDV, this virus infected dog and ferret epithelial cells inefficiently and did not cause cell fusion or syncytium formation. On the other hand, the EpR-blind CDV replicated in cells expressing canine signaling lymphocyte activation molecule (SLAM), the morbillivirus immune cell receptor, with similar kinetics to those of wild-type CDV. While ferrets infected with wild-type CDV died within 12 days after infection, after developing severe rash and fever, animals infected with the EpR-blind virus showed no clinical signs of disease. Nevertheless, both viruses spread rapidly and efficiently in immune cells, causing similar levels of leukopenia and inhibition of lymphocyte proliferation activity, two indicators of morbillivirus immunosuppression. Infection was documented for airway epithelia of ferrets infected with wild-type CDV but not for those of animals infected with the EpR-blind virus, and only animals infected with wild-type CDV shed virus. Thus, epithelial cell infection is necessary for clinical disease and efficient virus shedding but not for immunosuppression.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science