An In Vitro Model of Latency and Reactivation of Varicella Zoster Virus in Human Stem Cell-Derived Neurons

Amos Markus, Ilana Lebenthal-Loinger, In Hong Yang, Paul R. Kinchington, Ronald S. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Varicella zoster virus (VZV) latency in sensory and autonomic neurons has remained enigmatic and difficult to study, and experimental reactivation has not yet been achieved. We have previously shown that human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived neurons are permissive to a productive and spreading VZV infection. We now demonstrate that hESC-derived neurons can also host a persistent non-productive infection lasting for weeks which can subsequently be reactivated by multiple experimental stimuli. Quiescent infections were established by exposing neurons to low titer cell-free VZV either by using acyclovir or by infection of axons in compartmented microfluidic chambers without acyclovir. VZV DNA and low levels of viral transcription were detectable by qPCR for up to seven weeks. Quiescently-infected human neuronal cultures were induced to undergo renewed viral gene and protein expression by growth factor removal or by inhibition of PI3-Kinase activity. Strikingly, incubation of cultures induced to reactivate at a lower temperature (34°C) resulted in enhanced VZV reactivation, resulting in spreading, productive infections. Comparison of VZV genome transcription in quiescently-infected to productively-infected neurons using RNASeq revealed preferential transcription from specific genome regions, especially the duplicated regions. These experiments establish a powerful new system for modeling the VZV latent state, and reveal a potential role for temperature in VZV reactivation and disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1004885
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Virology


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