Chronic γ-herpesvirus infection is a dynamic process involving latent infection, reactivation from latency, and low level persistent replication. The γ-herpesviruses maintain latent infection in restricted subsets of hematopoietic cells as a result of an intricate balance between host factors that suppress infection and viral factors that facilitate evasion of the immune response. Immune effectors limit reactivation and subsequent replication events, and the adaptive immune response ultimately restricts infection to a level compatible with life-long infection. However, it has not been possible to determine whether the immune system constrains chronic infection by directly targeting latently infected cells in vivo due to the complex nature of chronic infection. To begin to address this issue, we generated a murine γ-herpesvirus 68 (γHV68) deficient in its ability to replicate or undergo reactivation from latency via a mutation in the single-stranded DNA binding protein encoded by ORF6. Even in the absence of lytic replication, this virus established long-term infection in peritoneal cells of wild-type mice at levels identical to that of wild-type γHV68, and generated an immune response that was sufficient to protect against secondary challenge with wild-type γHV68. Nevertheless, the number of latently infected cells was not significantly altered in mice deficient in T cells or both T cells and B cells, demonstrating that the adaptive immune system is incapable of altering infection with a virus lacking the capacity for lytic replication and reactivation from latency. Thus, these data support the conclusion that latency is immunologically silent.
- T cell