Dendritic cells in cytomegalovirus infection: viral evasion and host countermeasures

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Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a β-herpesvirus that infects the majority of the population during early childhood and thereafter establishes life-long latency. Primary infection as well as spontaneous reactivation usually remains asymptomatic in healthy hosts but can, in the context of systemic immunosuppression, result in substantial morbidity and mortality. HCMV counteracts the host immune response by interfering with the recognition of infected cells. A growing body of literature has also suggested that the virus evades the immune system by paralyzing the initiators of antiviral immune responses - the dendritic cells (DCs). In the current review, we discuss the effects of CMV (HCMV and murine CMV) on various DC subsets and the ensuing innate and adaptive immune responses. The impact of HCMV on DCs has mainly been investigated using monocyte-derived DCs, which are rendered functionally impaired by infection. In mouse models, DCs are targets of viral evasion as well, but the complex cross-talk between DCs and natural killer cells has, however, demonstrated an instrumental role for DCs in the control and clearance of viral infection. Fewer studies address the role of peripheral blood DC subsets, plasmacytoid DCs and CD11c+ myeloid DCs in the response against HCMV. These DCs, rather than being paralyzed by HCMV, are largely resistant to infection, mount a vigorous first-line defense and induce T-cell responses to the virus. This possibly provides a partial explanation for an intriguing conundrum: the highly efficient control of viral infection and reactivation in immunocompetent hosts in spite of multi-layered viral evasion mechanisms.

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