Luciferase-based imaging allows a global view of microbial pathogenesis. We applied this technique to gammaherpesvirus infection by inserting a luciferase expression cassette into the genome of murine herpesvirus-4 (MuHV-4). The recombinant virus strongly expressed luciferase in lytically infected cells without significant attenuation. We used it to compare different routes of virus inoculation. After intranasal infection of anaesthetized mice, luciferase was expressed in the nose and lungs for 7–10 days and in lymphoid tissue, most consistently the superficial cervical lymph nodes, for up to 30 days. Gastrointestinal infection was not observed. Intraperitoneal infection was very different to intranasal, with strong luciferase expression in the liver, kidneys, intestines, reproductive tract and spleen, but none in the nose or lungs. The nose has not previously been identified as a site of MuHV-4 infection. After intranasal infection of non-anaesthetized mice, it was the only site of non-lymphoid luciferase expression. Nevertheless, lymphoid colonization and persistence were still established, even at low inoculation doses. In contrast, virus delivered orally was very poorly infectious. Inoculation route therefore had a major impact on pathogenesis. Low dose intranasal infection without anaesthesia seems most likely to mimic natural transmission, and may therefore be particularly informative about normal viral gene functions.


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