Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is secreted apically from villous trophoblasts, thus congenital infection is not likely to occur by basal release across the basement membrane. As an alternative route, we hypothesize that an HCMV-infected villous syncytiotrophoblast (ST) upregulates intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1, causing blood monocytes to bind to the ST and induce apoptosis. Purified (>99.99%) populations of human villous trophoblasts were differentiated into an ST-like culture, infected with HCMV strain AD169, and assessed for ICAM-1 expression by immunofluorescence. Infection strongly upregulated ICAM-1 24 h after challenge. ICAM-1 was also stimulated by transfection with viral genes IE2-55, IE1-72, and IE2-86, but not by UV-inactivated virus. Infection with a green fluorescent protein recombinant virus allowed infection and ICAM-1 expression to be topographically located. We found that ICAM-1 was expressed on both infected and noninfected cells. Furthermore, antibody to tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α and, to a lesser extent, interleukin (IL)1β inhibited ICAM-1 upregulation on noninfected cells but not on infected cells. We conclude that HCMV IE proteins stimulate ICAM-1 expression on villous trophoblasts by paracrine release of TNFα and IL1β, as well as by a direct effect on infected cells.
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