Stem Cells Resistant to Viruses??

virusesRachel Hannum (1 PM Micro) found this article about virology, stem cells, and how stem cells were important to being able to culture the viruses. Cytomegalovirus is not the cause of serious disease in humans, except in individuals who are otherwise immunocompromised, or as in this summary, the very young. Although we will not specifically talk about cytomegalovirus in lecture, they are members of the Herpesvirus family, and we will talk about a very common member of that family. Here is Rachel’s summary:


Science Daily published an article on November 28 about a study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a virus that infects neurons. This virus is passed from mother to infant through the placenta. 50-80% of people in the United States have been infected by HCMV before the age of 40. HCMV is actually the most common infection passed from mother to unborn child. Not everyone that is infected with this virus will pass it on to their unborn child. It is only if the mother initially contracts the virus while pregnant. One in every 150 babies are born with HCMV. So what’s the problem you may ask? HCMV can cause developmental problems in the fetus such as visual or auditory problems. This can also lead to seizures which can become severe and there is some ties to intellectual disability.

So What the Heck Does Pitt Have To Do With This??

Researcher Vishwajit Nimgaonkar said “Previous studies have focused on other species and other cell types, but those studies did not evaluate what the cytomegalovirus does to human brain cells.” These researchers grew cultured human neurons and then infected them during different stages of development. Growing the brain cells in the laboratory is very difficult so they had to use pluripotent stem cells (iPS).

So What Did They Find??

Human iPS cells are resistant to CMV infection. They interfere with the virus replication cycle. So this comes back to lecture! The virus can attach and invade, but when it tries to replicate within the cell, it cannot. They also found out exactly what HCMV does, the infection interrupts cell differentiation. This could be the underlying cause of the developmental impairments seen in babies. The most important thing they found was that the mature neurons are much more susceptible to CMV infection. The cultures actually die within a few days of inoculation.

Why does this matter??

HCMV causes a lot of disabilities in babies and infects the majority of the population. Although it does not cause serious disease, it is still clearly something to raise concern. This research is getting them huge steps toward finding a drug to combat the disease. To quote the main researcher Nimgaonkar, “The findings were quite surprising, but this is only the first in a series of studies on HCMV.”


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on December 4, 2012, in Guest Post, Microbes in the News. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Stem Cells Resistant to Viruses??.

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