It has been suggested that poliovirus (PV), the causative agent of poliomyelitis, could persist in surviving patients. We have previously shown that PV can persistently infect some human cell lines in vitro, particularly neuroblastoma cell lines. We report here an ex vivo model in which PV can persistently infect primary cultures of human fetal brain cells. Two mutations involving capsid residues 142 of VP2 and 95 of VP1 were repeatedly selected during the persistent infections. These residues are located in capsid regions known to be involved in interactions between PV and its receptor. During the first week after infection, viral antigens were found in cells of both the neuronal and glial lineages. In contrast, 2 weeks after infection, viral antigens were detected almost exclusively in cells of the neuronal lineage. They were detected predominantly in cells expressing a marker of early commitment to the neuronal lineage, MAP-5, particularly in neuroblasts. Viral antigens were also found in immature progenitors expressing a neuroepithelium marker, nestin, and in cells expressing a marker of postmitotic neurons, MAP-2. The presence of viral antigens in postmitotic neurons suggests that PV can persist in neurons of patients who have survived poliomyelitis
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