Measles virus (MV), one of the most contagious viruses infecting humans, causes a systemic infection leading to fever, immune suppression, and a characteristic maculopapular rash. However, the specific mechanism or mechanisms responsible for the spread of MV into the respiratory epithelium in the late stages of the disease are unknown. Here we show the crucial role of PVRL4 in mediating the spread of MV from immune to epithelial cells by generating a PVRL4 "blind" recombinant wild-typeMV and developing a novel in vitro coculture model of B cells with primary differentiated normal human bronchial epithelial cells. We utilized the macaque model of measles to analyze virus distribution in the respiratory tract prior to and at the peak of MV replication. Expression of PVRL4 was widespread in both the lower and upper respiratory tract (URT) of macaques, indicating M transmission can be facilitated by more than only epithelial cells of the trachea. Analysis of tissues collected at early time points after experimental MV infection demonstrated the presence of MV-infected lymphoid and myeloid cells contacting respiratory tract epithelium in the absence of infected epithelial cells, suggesting that these immune cells seed the infection in vivo.Thereafter, lateral cell-to-cell spread of MV led to the formation of large foci of infected cells in the trachea and high levels of MV infection in the URT, particularly in the nasal cavity. These novel findings have important implications for our understanding of the high transmissibility of measles.

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Journal Journal of Virology
Ludlow, M, Lemon, K, de Vries, R.D, McQuaid, S, Millar, E.L, van Amerongen, G, … Duprexa, W.P. (2013). Measles virus infection of epithelial cells in the macaque upper respiratory tract is mediated by subepithelial immune cells. Journal of Virology, 87(7), 4033–4042. doi:10.1128/JVI.03258-12