Persistence of lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) virus in mice infected or neonatally is due to impairment of the specific subsets of thymus-dependent lymphocytes which, in the adult normal mouse, are involved in elimination of LCM virus. Virus-thymocyte interactions were studied since it was likely that this impairment takes place in the thymus. Using an infectious centre assay, we found that about 1% of the thymocytes from foetal and neonatal mice were productively infected by the virus while thymocytes from older mice were refractory to infection. The infected cells were Thy 1-positive and agglutinated by peanut lectin together with immature lymphocytes. Later, when virus persistence was established, the number of infected thymocytes declined to about 0.1% and these cells were not agglutinated by lectin. The results are compatible with the assumption that thymic precursor T-cells capable of eliminating LCM virus are chronically infected by the virus and rendered non-functional.


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