• Human congenital cytomegalovirus infection: characteristics and pathogenesis of fetal brain damage
  • Piccirilli, Giulia <1983>


  • MED/07 Microbiologia e microbiologia clinica


  • Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) causes congenital neurological lifelong disabilities. The study analyzed 10 HCMV-infected human fetuses at 21 weeks of gestation to evaluate the characteristics and pathogenesis of brain injury related to congenital human CMV (cCMV) infection. Specifically, tissues from cortical and white matter areas, subventricular zone, thalamus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, basal ganglia and cerebellum were analysed by: i) immunohistochemistry (IHC) to detect HCMV-infected cell distribution, ii) hematoxylin-eosin staining to evaluate histological damage and iii) real-time PCR to quantify tissue viral load (HCMV-DNA). Viral tropism was assessed by double IHC to detect HCMV-antigens and neural/neuronal markers: nestin (expressed in early differentiation stage), doublecortin (DCX, identifying neuronal precursor cells) and neuronal nuclei (NeuN, identifying mature neurons). HCMV-positive cells and viral DNA were found in the brain of 8/10 (80%) fetuses. For these cases, brain damage was classified in mild (n=4, 50%), moderate (n=3, 37.5%) and severe (n=1, 12.5%) based on presence of i) diffuse astrocytosis, microglial activation and vascular changes; ii) occasional (in mild) or multiple (in moderate/severe) microglial nodules and iii) necrosis (in severe). The highest median HCMV-DNA level was found in the hippocampus (212 copies/5ng of humanDNA [hDNA], range: 10-7,505) as well as the highest mean HCMV-infected cell value (2.9 cells, range: 0-23), followed by that detected in subventricular zone (1.8 cells, range: 0-19). This suggests a preferential HCMV tropism for immature neuronal cells, residing in these regions, confirmed by the detection of DCX and nestin in 94% and 63.3% of HCMV-positive cells, respectively. NeuN was not found among HCMV-positive cells and was nearly absent in the brain with severe damage, suggesting HCMV does not infect mature neurons and immature HCMV-infected neuronal cells do not differentiate into neurons. HCMV preferential tropism in immature neural/neuronal cells delays/inhibits their differentiation interfering with brain development processes that lead to structural and functional brain defects.


  • 2019-11-29


  • Doctoral Thesis
  • PeerReviewed


  • application/pdf



Piccirilli, Giulia (2019) Human congenital cytomegalovirus infection: characteristics and pathogenesis of fetal brain damage, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Scienze biomediche e neuromotorie , 32 Ciclo. DOI 10.48676/unibo/amsdottorato/9138.