Human herpesvirus 7 (HHV-7) is endemic in the adult human population. Although HHV-7 preferentially infects activated CD4 + T lymphocytes, the consequence of T-cell infection for viral pathogenesis and immunity are still largely unknown. HHV-7 infection induces apoptosis mostly in uninfected bystander cells but not in productively infected CD4 + T cells. To dissect the underlying molecular events, the role of death-inducing ligands belonging to the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) cytokine superfamily was investigated. HHV-7 selectively up-regulated the expression of TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), but not that of CD95 ligand or TNF-α in lymphoblastoid (SupT1) or primary activated CD4 + T cells. Moreover, in a cell-to-cell-contact assay, HHV-7-infected CD4 + T lymphocytes were cytotoxic for bystander uninfected CD4 + T cells through the TRAIL pathway. By contrast, HHV-7 infection caused a marked decrease of surface TRAIL-R1, but not of TRAIL-R2, CD95, TNF-R1, or TNF-R2. Of note, the down-regulation of TRAIL-R1 selectively occurred in cells coexpressing HHV-7 antigens that became resistant to TRAIL-mediated cytotoxicity. These findings suggest that the TRAIL-mediated induction of T-cell death may represent an important immune evasion mechanism of HHV-7, helping the virus to persist in the host organism throughout its lifetime.
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