The susceptibility of human central nervous system cell lines to human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) and the fate of infected cultures were studied. Significant amounts of infectious progeny virus were produced in 118MGC glioma and IMR-32 neuroblastoma, but not in KGC oligodendroglioma cells when the cultures were infected with wild-type virus (HCMVwt) at an m.o.i. of 10 p.f.u. per cell. Further passage of infected 118MGC cells resulted in the establishment of a long-term persistent infection. This infection, designated 118MGC/Towne, continuously produced infectious virus (HCMVpi) with titres ranging from 10 to 10 p.f.u./10 cells up to 360 days post-infection (corresponding to 50 subcultures). Since no temperature-sensitive mutants, defective interfering particles or interferon-like activity were found in the 118MGC/Towne cultures, maintenance of the persistent infection seemed to be due to a balance between the release of infectious virus and the growth of uninfected cells. The HCMVpi produced in long-term persistently infected cultures was shown to be different from the HCMVwt originally used to infect by the following characteristics: (i) HCMVpi replicated slowly and yielded lower amounts of progeny virus than HCMVwt; (ii) HCMVpi induced a 73000 mol. wt. immediate early protein that was not synthesized in HCMVwt-infected cells; (iii) HCMVpi had a different DNA structure from that of HCMVwt. These results suggest that HCMVpi is a slower growing variant of HCMVwt and probably plays an important role in the maintenance of the persistent infection.


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