Background. Following primary human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection, the production of antibodies against envelope glycoprotein B (gB) is delayed, compared with production of antibodies against tegument proteins, and this likely reduces the control of HCMV dissemination.
Methods. The frequency and the phenotype of gB-specific and tegument protein–specific B cells were studied in a cohort of pregnant women with primary HCMV infection. Healthy adults who had chronic HCMV infection or were recently immunized with tetanus toxoid (TT) were included as controls.
Results. Primary HCMV infection was associated with high and similar frequencies of gB-specific and tegument protein–specific B cells following primary HCMV infection. During primary infection, tegument protein–specific B cells expressed an activated (CD21low) memory B-cell (MBC) phenotype. Activated MBCs were also induced by TT booster immunization, indicating that the expansion of this subset is part of the physiological B-cell response to protein antigens. In contrast, gB-specific B cells had a predominant classical (CD21+) MBC phenotype during both primary and chronic infections.
Conclusions. The delayed production of gB-specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) during primary HCMV infection is associated with a limited induction of MBCs with effector potential. This novel mechanism by which HCMV may interfere with the production of neutralizing antibodies could represent a target for therapeutic immunization.