Two clinical observations, the association of human herpesvirus-6 (HHV-6) with delayed engraftment after stem cell transplantation and thrombocytopenia concomitant with exanthema subitum, prompted us to evaluate the suppressive effects of HHV-6 on thrombopoiesis in vitro. Different culture conditions for thrombopoietin (TPO)-inducible colonies in semi-solid matrices were examined. Using cord blood mononuclear cells as the source of haematopoietic progenitors, two types of colonies, megakaryocyte colony-forming units (CFU-Meg) and non-CFU-Meg colonies, were established. The former colonies were identified by the presence of cells with translucent cytoplasm and highly refractile cell membrane, most of which were positive for the CD41 antigen. Although the plating efficiency of both types was much higher under serum-containing conditions than under serum-free conditions, the proportion of CFU-Meg to non-CFU-Meg colonies was consistently higher under serum-free conditions. The plating efficiency of CFU-Meg colonies was doubled by adding stem cell factor to the serum-free matrix. The effects of two variants of HHV-6 (HHV-6A and 6B) and human herpesvirus-7 (HHV-7) on TPO-inducible colonies were then compared. HHV-6B inhibited both CFU-Meg and non-CFU-Meg colony formation under serum-free and serum-containing conditions. HHV-6A had similar inhibitory effects. In contrast, HHV-7 had no effect on TPO-inducible colony formation. Heat-inactivation and ultra-filtration of the virus sample completely abolished the suppressive effect. After infection of CD34+ cells with HHV-6, the viral genome was consistently detected by in situ hybridization. These data suggest that the direct effect of HHV-6 on haematopoietic progenitors is one of the major causes of the suppression of thrombopoiesis.
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