The host cell represents a hostile environment that viruses must counter in order to establish infection. Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is no different and encodes a multitude of functions aimed at disabling, re-directing or hijacking cellular functions to promulgate infection. However, during the very early stages of infection the virus relies on the outcome of interactions between virion components, cell surface receptors and host signalling pathways to promote an environment that supports infection. In the context of latent infection—where the virus establishes an infection in an absence of many gene products specific for lytic infection—these initial interactions are crucial events. In this review, we will discuss key host responses triggered by viral infection and how, in turn, the virus ameliorates the impact on the establishment of non-lytic infections of cells. We will focus on strategies to evade intrinsic antiviral and innate immune responses and consider their impact on viral infection. Finally, we will consider the hypothesis that the very early events upon viral infection are important for dictating the outcome of infection and consider the possibility that events that occur during entry into non-permissive cells are unique and thus contribute to the establishment of latency.
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