Murine Cytomegalovirus Inhibits Interferon γ-induced Antigen Presentation to CD4 T Cells by Macrophages Via Regulation of Expression of Major Histocompatibility Complex Class II-associated Genes

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CD4 T cells and interferon γ (IFN-γ) are required for clearance of murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) infection from the salivary gland in a process taking weeks to months. To explain the inefficiency of salivary gland clearance we hypothesized that MCMV interferes with IFN-γ induced antigen presentation to CD4 T cells. MCMV infection inhibited IFN-γ-induced presentation of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II associated peptide antigen by differentiated bone marrow macrophages (BMMφs) to a T cell hybridoma via impairment of MHC class II cell surface expression. This effect was independent of IFN-α/β induction by MCMV infection, and required direct infection of the BMMφs with live virus. Inhibition of MHC class II cell surface expression was associated with a six- to eightfold reduction in IFN-γ induced IAb mRNA levels, and comparable decreases in IFN-γ induced expression of invariant chain (Ii), H-2Ma, and H-2Mb mRNAs. Steady state levels of several constitutive host mRNAs, including β-actin, cyclophilin, and CD45 were not significantly decreased by MCMV infection, ruling out a general effect of MCMV infection on mRNA levels. MCMV effects were specific to certain MHC genes since IFN-γ-induced transporter associated with antigen presentation (TAP)2 mRNA levels were minimally altered in infected cells. Analysis of early upstream events in the IFN-γ signaling pathway revealed that MCMV did not affect activation and nuclear translocation of STAT1α, and had minor effects on the early induction of IRF-1 mRNA and protein. We conclude that MCMV infection interferes with IFN-γ-mediated induction of specific MHC genes and the Ii at a stage subsequent to STAT1α activation and nuclear translocation. This impairs antigen presentation to CD4 T cells, and may contribute to the capacity of MCMV to spread and persist within the infected host.

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