A detailed analysis of F-MuLV- and SFFV-infected cells in Friend virus-infected mice reveals the contribution of both F-MuLV- and SFFV-infected cells to the interleukin-10 host response

Background: Friend virus (FV) is a complex of the Friend murine leukemia virus (F-MuLV) and the replication-defective, pathogenic spleen focus forming virus (SFFV). In the past, we used a fluorescently labeled F-MuLV to analyze FV target cells. To build on these findings, we have now created a double-labeled FV that contains a Katushka-labeled F-MuLV and an mTagBFP-labeled SFFV, which we have used to study the infection by the two individual viruses in the FV infection of highly susceptible BALB/c mice.

Results: Our data show that the target cells of SFFV largely mirror those of F-MuLV, with the highest virus loads in erythroblasts, B cells and myeloid cells. The early phase of infection was dominated by cells infected by either SFFV or F-MuLV, whereas double-infected cells became dominant later in the course of infection with increasing viral loads. In the late phase of infection, the frequency of double-infected cells was similarly high as the frequencies of SFFV or F-MuLV single-infected cells, and single- and double-infected cells outnumbered the uninfected cells in the most highly infected cell populations such as erythroblasts. FV and retroviruses in general have been shown to induce interleukin 10 (IL-10) as a means of suppressing immune responses. Interestingly, we found in infected IL-10-eGFP reporter mice that SFFV-infected cells contributed to the IL-10-producing cell pool much more significantly than F-MuLV-infected cells, suggesting that the truncated SFFV envelope protein gp55 might play a role in IL-10 induction. Even though BALB/c mice mount notoriously weak immune responses against FV, infection of mice with an ablation of IL-10 expression in T cells showed transiently lower viral loads and stronger T cell activation, suggesting that IL-10 induction by FV and by SFFV in particular may contribute to a suppressed immune response in BALB/c mice.

Conclusion: Our data provide detailed information about both F-MuLV- and SFFV-infected cells during the course of FV infection in highly susceptible mice and imply that the pathogenic SFFV contributes to immune suppression.


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