Mouse hepatitis virus strain JHM (MHV-JHM) causes a chronic encephalomyelitis in susceptible mice, with histological evidence of demyelination in the spinal cord. After intranasal inoculation, virus spreads retrogradely to several brain structures along neuroanatomic projections to the main olfactory bulb. In the absence of experimental intervention, mice become moribund before the spinal cord is infected. In this study, infusions of anti-MHV neutralizing monoclonal antibodies were administered to protect mice from the MHV-JHM-induced acute encephalitis and to allow survival until virus spread to the spinal cord. Under these conditions, virus was observed to enter specific layers (primarily laminae V to VII) in the gray matter of the upper spinal cord, consistent with transneuronal spread. While the brain structures which are the sources for virus spread to the spinal cord cannot be determined with certainty, the ventral reticular nucleus is likely to be important since it is consistently and extensively labeled in all mice and receives projections from subsequently infected areas of the spinal cord. After initial entry into the gray matter, virus rapidly spread to the white matter of the spinal cord. During the early stages of this process, extensive infection of astrocytes was noted, suggesting that cell-to-cell spread via these glial cells is an important part of this process. Reports from other laboratories using cultured cells strongly suggested that astrocytes serve as important regulators of oligodendrocyte function and, by extrapolation, have a major role in vivo in the processes of both demyelination and remyelination. Thus, our results not only outline the probable pathway used by MHV-JHM to infect the white matter of the spinal cord but also, with the assumption that infection of astrocytes leads to subsequent dysfunction, raise the possibility that infection of these cells contributes to the demyelinating process
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