Virological, innate, and adaptive immune profiles shaped by variation in route and age of host in murine cytomegalovirus infection

Christopher P. Coplen, Mladen Jergovic, Elana L. Terner, Christine M. Bradshaw, Jennifer L. Uhrlaub, Janko Nikolich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human cytomegalovirus (hCMV) is a ubiquitous facultative pathogen, which establishes a characteristic latent and reactivating lifelong infection in immunocompetent hosts. Murine CMV (mCMV) infection is widely used as an experimental model of hCMV infection, employed to investigate the causal nature and extent of CMV’s contribution to inflammatory, immunological, and health disturbances in humans. Therefore, mimicking natural human infection in mice would be advantageous to hCMV research. To assess the role of route and age at infection in modeling hCMV in mice, we infected prepubescent and young sexually mature C57BL/6 (B6) mice intranasally (i.n., a likely physiological route in humans) and intraperitoneally (i.p., a frequently used experimental route, possibly akin to transplant-mediated infection). In our hands, both routes led to comparable early viral loads and tissue spreads. However, they yielded differential profiles of innate and adaptive systemic immune activation. Specifically, the younger, prepubescent mice exhibited the strongest natural killer cell activation in the blood in response to i.p. infection. Further, the i.p. infected animals (particularly those infected at 12 weeks) exhibited larger anti-mCMV IgG and greater expansion of circulating CD8+ T cells specific for both acute (non-inflationary) and latent phase (inflationary) mCMV epitopes. By contrast, tissue immune responses were comparable between i.n. and i.p. groups. Our results illustrate a distinction in the bloodborne immune response profiles across infection routes and ages and are discussed in light of physiological parameters of interaction between CMV, immunity, inflammation, and health over the lifespan. IMPORTANCE The majority of experiments modeling human cytomegalovirus (hCMV) infection in mice have been carried out using intraperitoneal infection in sexually mature adult mice, which stands in contrast to the large number of humans being infected with human CMV at a young age, most likely via bodily fluids through the nasopharyngeal/oral route. This study examined the impact of the choice of age and route of infection in modeling CMV infection in mice. By comparing young, prepubescent to older sexually mature counterparts, infected either via the intranasal or intraperitoneal route, we discovered substantial differences in deployment and response intensity of different arms of the immune system in systemic control of the virus; tissue responses, by contrast, appeared similar between ages and infection routes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024


  • aging
  • cytomegalovirus
  • immunology
  • viral spread

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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