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Eleanor Semmes (Duke University)

Human cytomegalovirus and host B cell co-evolution across the lifespan

Spring 2021 Graduate Student Award in Pathogenic and Commensal Organisms


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a common virus that has co-evolved with humans and the human immune system over millennia. After primary infection, HCMV establishes lifelong latency in the human host in part through the many immune evasion strategies that HCMV has evolved. While infection is usually asymptomatic in immunocompetent hosts, it can be devastating for immunocompromised individuals and for fetuses infected in utero. Intriguingly, HCMV infection can both benefit host immunity (e.g., increased vaccine responses and protection against heterologous pathogens) and increase disease risk (e.g., increased risk of B cell childhood leukemia). These findings suggest that HCMV may boost host B cell immunity in young adulthood, yet may prematurely activate fetal B cells in congenital infection. However, few studies have investigated how HCMV infection modulates host B cell development. In this study, we will use human biospecimens to investigate the nature of HCMV symbiosis in the context of B cell-mediated immunity across the host lifespan.