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Human cytomegalovirus infection inhibits CXCL12- mediated migration and invasion of human extravillous cytotrophoblasts

Jessica A Warner12, Kevin J Zwezdaryk1, Bonita Day1, Deborah E Sullivan1, Gabriella Pridjian3 and Cindy A Morris13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, USA

2 Physician-Scientist Program, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, USA

3 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Tulane University School of Medicine, 1430 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, LA, USA

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Virology Journal 2012, 9:255  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-9-255

Published: 1 November 2012



During the first trimester of pregnancy, a series of tightly regulated interactions govern the formation of a highly invasive population of fetal-derived extravillous cytotrophoblasts (EVT). Successful pregnancy is dependent on efficient invasion of the uterine wall and maternal spiral arteries by EVT. Dysregulated trophoblast invasion is associated with intrauterine growth restriction, birth defects, spontaneous abortion and preeclampsia. A number of soluble growth factors, cytokines, and chemokines modulate this process, fine-tuning the temporal and spatial aspects of cytotrophoblast invasion. In particular, the CXCL12/CXCR4 axis has been shown to specifically modulate cytotrophoblast differentiation, invasion, and survival throughout early pregnancy. Infection with human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) has been associated with impaired differentiation of cytotrophoblasts down the invasive pathway, specifically dysregulating the response to mitogens including epidermal growth factor (EGF) and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF). In this study, the effect of HCMV infection on the CXCL12-mediated migration and invasion of the EVT cell line SGHPL-4 was investigated.


Infection with HCMV significantly decreased secretion of CXCL12 by SGHPL-4 cells, and induced a striking perinuclear accumulation of the chemokine. HCMV infection significantly increased mRNA and total cell surface expression of the two known receptors for CXCL12: CXCR4 and CXCR7. Functionally, HCMV-infected SGHPL-4 cells were unable to migrate or invade in response to a gradient of soluble CXCL12 in transwell assays.


Collectively, these studies demonstrate that HCMV impairs EVT migration and invasion induced by CXCL12. As HCMV has the ability to inhibit EVT migration and invasion through dysregulation of other relevant signaling pathways, it is likely that the virus affects multiple signaling pathways to impair placentation and contribute to some of the placental defects seen in HCMV-positive pregnancies.

Human cytomegalovirus; Placentation; Extravillous cytotrophoblasts; Chemokines; CXCL12; CXCR4 and CXCR7; Invasion