The UL128 complex of human cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a major determinant of viral entry into epithelial and endothelial cells and a target for vaccine development. The UL/b' region of rhesus CMV contains several open reading frames, including orthologs of the UL128 complex. We recently showed that the coding content of the rhesus CMV (RhCMV) UL/b' region predicts acute endothelial tropism and long-term shedding in vivo in the rhesus macaque model of CMV infection. The laboratory-passaged RhCMV 180.92 strain has a truncated UL/b' region but an intact UL128 complex. To investigate whether the presence of the UL128 complex alone was sufficient to confer endothelial and epithelial tropism in vivo, we investigated tissue dissemination and viral excretion following experimental RhCMV 180.92 inoculation of RhCMV-seronegative rhesus macaques. We show the presence of at least two virus variants in the RhCMV 180.92 infectious virus stock. A rare variant noted for a nontruncated wildtype- virus-like UL/b' region, rapidly emerged during in vivo replication and showed high-level replication in blood and tissues and excretion in urine and saliva, features similar to those previously reported in naturally occurring wild-type RhCMV infection. In contrast, the predominant truncated version of RhCMV 180.92 showed significantly lower plasma DNAemia and limited tissue dissemination and viral shedding. These data demonstrate that the truncated RhCMV 180.92 variant is attenuated in vivo and suggest that additional UL/b' genes, besides the UL128 complex, are required for optimal in vivo CMV replication and dissemination.
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