Primary Human B Cells at Different Differentiation and Maturation Stages Exhibit Distinct Susceptibilities to Vaccinia Virus Binding and Infection

Nicole Shepherd, Jie Lan, Wei Li, Sushmita Rane, Qigui Yu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Vaccinia virus (VACV), the prototypical member of the poxvirus family, was used as a live-virus vaccine to eradicate smallpox worldwide and has recently received considerable attention because of its potential as a prominent vector for the development of vaccines against infectious diseases and as an oncolytic virus for cancer therapy. Studies have demonstrated that VACV exhibits an extremely strong bias for binding to and infection of primary human antigen-presenting cells (APCs), including monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells. However, very few studies have assessed the interactions of VACV with primary human B cells, a main type of professional APCs. In this study, we evaluated the susceptibility of primary human peripheral B cells at various differentiation and maturation stages to VACV binding, infection, and replication. We found that plasmablasts were resistant to VACV binding, while other B subsets, including transitional, mature naive, memory, and plasma cells, were highly susceptible to VACV binding. VACV binding preference was likely associated with differential expression of chemokine receptors, particularly CXCR5. Infection studies showed that plasmablast, plasma, transitional, and mature naive B cells were resistant to VACV infection, while memory B cells were preferentially infected. VACV infection in ex vivo B cells was abortive, which occurred at the stage of late viral gene expression. In contrast, activated B cells were permissive to productive VACV infection. Thus, primary human B cells at different differentiation stages exhibit distinct susceptibilities to VACV binding and infection, and the infections are abortive and productive in ex vivo and activated B cells, respectively.IMPORTANCE Our results provide critical information to the field of poxvirus binding and infection tropism. We demonstrate that VACV preferentially infects memory B cells that play an important role in a rapid and vigorous antibody-mediated immune response upon reinfection by a pathogen. Additionally, this work highlights the potential of B cells as natural cellular models to identify VACV receptors or dissect the molecular mechanisms underlying key steps of the VACV life cycle, such as binding, penetration, entry, and replication in primary human cells. The understanding of VACV biology in human primary cells is essential for the development of a safe and effective live-virus vector for oncolytic virus therapy and vaccines against smallpox, other pathogens, and cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • B cells
  • binding
  • early gene
  • infection
  • late gene
  • plasma cells
  • vaccinia virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology

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