Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus (TMEV) induces demyelinating disease which is associated with persistent virus infection of the central nervous system. To study the interaction between TMEV and host cells, we infected the G26-20 glioma cell line in vitro, and this resulted in a lytic infection in which most, but not all, cells were killed. Surviving cells divided and formed a viable monolayer in which a small proportion of cells displayed viral cytopathic effects. Levels of virus produced by these cultures over a 6 month period fluctuated between 6 and 8 log10 p.f.u./ml as measured by viral plaque assay. Similarly, the percentage of cells producing both viral antigen and viral RNA, as measured by a simultaneous immunoperoxidase/in situ hybridization technique, varied between 5 and 30%. Although persistently infected cultures were susceptible to challenge by both vesicular stomatitis virus and herpes simplex virus, they were resistant to infection by homologous viruses. Interferon activity was not identified. TMEV isolated from passage 12 produced smaller plaques than wild-type Daniels strain virus (wt-DAV) on L-2 cell monolayers. In contrast to demyelination induced in SJL/J mice after intracerebral inoculation with wt-DAV, mice infected with the small plaque variant virus failed to develop viral persistence or chronic demyelination. However, following immunosuppression by total body irradiation, SJL/J mice infected with the small plaque variant developed viral persistence but no demyelination. Characterization of the biochemical and molecular determinants of the variant will lead to a better understanding of determinants important in viral persistence.
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