Rhesus cytomegalovirus (RhCMV) is an emerging model for human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) pathogenesis that facilitates experimental CMV infection of a natural primate host closely related to humans. We have generated a library of RhCMV mutants with lesions in genes whose HCMV orthologues have been characterized as nonessential for replication in human fibroblasts, and we characterized their replication in rhesus fibroblasts and epithelial cells. The RhCMV mutants grew well in fibroblasts, as predicted by earlier studies with HCMV. However, mutations in four genes caused replication defects in rhesus retinal pigment epithelial cells: Rh01 (an HCMV TRL1 orthologue), Rh159 (HCMV UL148), Rh160 (HCMV UL132), and Rh203 (HCMV US22). Growth of the Rh01-deficient mutant was examined in detail. After entry into epithelial cells, the mutant expressed representative viral proteins, accumulated viral DNA, and generated infectious virus, but it failed to spread efficiently. We conclude that Rh01 is a cell tropism determinant that has the potential to dramatically affect virus spread and pathogenesis.
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