Transcriptome Analysis of Porcine Thymus following Porcine Cytomegalovirus Infection

Porcine cytomegalovirus (PCMV) is a major immunosuppressive virus that mainly affects the immune function of T lymphocytes and macrophages. Despite being widely distributed around the world, no significantly different PCMV serotypes have been found. Moreover, the molecular immunosuppressive mechanisms of PCMV, along with the host antiviral mechanisms, are still not well characterized. To understand the potential impact of PCMV on the function of immune organs, we examined the transcriptome of PCMV-infected thymuses by microarray analysis. We identified 5,582 genes that were differentially expressed as a result of PCMV infection. Of these, 2,161 were upregulated and 3,421 were downregulated compared with the uninfected group. We confirmed the expression of 13 differentially expressed immune-related genes using quantitative real-time RT-PCR, and further confirmed the expression of six of those cytokines by western blot. Gene ontology, gene interaction networks, and KEGG pathway analysis of our results indicated that PCMV regulates multiple functional pathways, including the immune system, cellular and metabolic processes, networks of cytokine-cytokine receptor interactions, the TGF-β signaling pathway, the lymphocyte receptor signaling pathway, and the TNF-α signaling pathway. Our study is the first comprehensive attempt to explore the host transcriptional response to PCMV infection in the porcine immune system. It provides new insights into the immunosuppressive molecular mechanisms and pathogenesis of PCMV. This previously unrecognized endogenous antiviral mechanism has implications for the development of host-directed strategies for the prevention and treatment of immunosuppressive viral diseases.