Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is a highly neurotropic virus that can cause infections in both the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system. Several studies of VZV reactivation in the peripheral nervous system (herpes zoster) have been published, while exceedingly few investigations have been carried out in a human brain. Notably, there is no animal model for VZV infection of the central nervous system. In this report, we characterized the cellular environment in the temporal lobe of a human subject who recovered from focal VZV encephalitis. The approach included not only VZV DNA/RNA analyses but also a delineation of infected cell types (neurons, microglia, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes). The average VZV genome copy number per cell was 5. Several VZV regulatory and structural gene transcripts and products were detected. When colocalization studies were performed to determine which cell types harbored the viral proteins, the majority of infected cells were astrocytes, including aggregates of astrocytes. Evidence of syncytium formation within the aggregates included the continuity of cytoplasm positive for the VZV glycoprotein H (gH) fusion-complex protein within a cellular profile with as many as 80 distinct nuclei. As with other causes of brain injury, these results suggested that astrocytes likely formed a defensive perimeter around foci of VZV infection (astrogliosis). Because of the rarity of brain samples from living humans with VZV encephalitis, we compared our VZV results with those found in a rat encephalitis model following infection with the closely related pseudorabies virus and observed similar perimeters of gliosis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science