Three-Dimensional Normal Human Neural Progenitor Tissue-Like Assemblies: A Model of Persistent Varicella-Zoster Virus Infection
Public Library of Science (PLoS) -- PLOS Pathogens
DOI 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003512

Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is a neurotropic human alphaherpesvirus that causes varicella upon primary infection, establishes latency in multiple ganglionic neurons, and can reactivate to cause zoster. Live attenuated VZV vaccines are available; however, they can also establish latent infections and reactivate. Studies of VZV latency have been limited to the analyses of human ganglia removed at autopsy, as the virus is strictly a human pathogen. Recently, terminally differentiated human neurons have received much attention as a means to study the interaction between VZV and human neurons; however, the short life-span of these cells in culture has limited their application. Herein, we describe the construction of a model of normal human neural progenitor cells (NHNP) in tissue-like assemblies (TLAs), which can be successfully maintained for at least 180 days in three-dimensional (3D) culture, and exhibit an expression profile similar to that of human trigeminal ganglia. Infection of NHNP TLAs with cell-free VZV resulted in a persistent infection that was maintained for three months, during which the virus genome remained stable. Immediate-early, early and late VZV genes were transcribed, and low-levels of infectious VZV were recurrently detected in the culture supernatant. Our data suggest that NHNP TLAs are an effective system to investigate long-term interactions of VZV with complex assemblies of human neuronal cells.