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posted on 18.05.2021, 14:06 authored by Paola Brun, Jessica Conti, Veronica Zatta, Venera Russo, Melania Scarpa, Andromachi Kotsafti, Andrea Porzionato, Raffaele De Caro, Marco Scarpa, Matteo Fassan, Arianna Calistri, Ignazio Castagliuolo

Behind the central nervous system, neurotropic viruses can reach and persist even in the enteric nervous system (ENS), the neuronal network embedded in the gut wall. We recently reported that immediately following orogastric (OG) administration, Herpes simplex virus (HSV)-1 infects murine enteric neurons and recruits mononuclear cells in the myenteric plexus. In the current work, we took those findings a step forward by investigating the persistence of HSV-1 in the ENS and the local adaptive immune responses against HSV-1 that might contribute to neuronal damage in an animal model. Our study demonstrated specific viral RNA transcripts and proteins in the longitudinal muscle layer containing the myenteric plexus (LMMP) up to 10 weeks post HSV-1 infection. CD3+CD8+INFγ+ lymphocytes skewed towards HSV-1 antigens infiltrated the myenteric ganglia starting from the 6th week of infection and persist up to 10 weeks post-OG HSV-1 inoculation. CD3+CD8+ cells isolated from the LMMP of the infected mice recognized HSV-1 antigens expressed by infected enteric neurons. In vivo, infiltrating activated lymphocytes were involved in controlling viral replication and intestinal neuromuscular dysfunction. Indeed, by depleting the CD8+ cells by administering specific monoclonal antibody we observed a partial amelioration of intestinal dysmotility in HSV-1 infected mice but increased expression of viral genes. Our findings demonstrate that HSV-1 persistently infects enteric neurons that in turn express viral antigens, leading them to recruit activated CD3+CD8+ lymphocytes. The T-cell responses toward HSV-1 antigens persistently expressed in enteric neurons can alter the integrity of the ENS predisposing to neuromuscular dysfunction.

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