Characteristics of the organism and its antigens

Cytomegalovirus is a typical herpesvirus. It contains double-stranded DNA of 2.4 X 105 base pairs which makes it the largest virus known to infect humans in terms of genome size. The proteins are expressed in an infected cell in an ordered cascade sequence termed a (immediate early), (3 (early) or y (late). Typically, they function as regulators of cell metabolism, enzymes and structural proteins of the virus, respectively. Many of the primary translation products are modified by glycosylation, cleavage or phosphorylation. Chee and colleagues have analyzed the complete sequence of one strain of CMV which encodes approximately 202 proteins. Recently, an additional 22 open reading frames have been described in one or both of two further strains of CMV.

Approximately 25% of the total open reading frames can be assigned functions, with many more having sequence homologies to known proteins. The surface structures which may be important for immunity exist as high molecular weight glycoprotein complexes which have been termed gCl, gCN and gCIII. The gCI complexes have also been termed gB because they have homology with herpes simplex virus (HSV) glycoprotein B, while the gCIII complexes are called gH. Like HSV, the gFI of CMV requires gL for its expression.

A characteristic feature of the virus is its ability to establish latency for the life of the individual. There are probably multiple sites the virus can reactivate from at multiple occasions. It often does so when the patient is otherwise debilitated, i.e. CMV acts as an opportunist.

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