Human cytomegalovirus infects most people in the United States by the time they are 40 years old. HCMV is usually harmless in children and adults, but when pregnant women are infected for the first time, the infection can lead to hearing, vision or other problems in their babies once they are born. [It is also a problem for organ transplant recipients.] According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HCMV is usually transmitted by sexual contact, diapers or toys. Notably absent are references to needles. That means scientists who study how mouse CMV infection takes place by injecting the virus into the animalâ€™s body are missing a critical step.
Postdoc Lisa Daley-Bauer, working with CMV expert Ed Mocarski, has a recent paper in the journal Cell Host & Microbe illuminating how the virus travels from sites of initial infections to the rest of the body. Defining the cells the virus uses to get around could have implications for efforts to design a HCMV vaccine.
The virus hijacks part of the immune system, the authors find. CMV emits its own attractant (or chemokine) for patrolling monocytes, a type of white blood cell that circulates in the skin and peripheral tissues. This attractant, called MCK2, is only important when mice are infected by footpad inoculation, not by systemic injection.