Human hantaviral disease is mediated by excessive proinflammatory and CD8+ T-cell responses, which can be alleviated by administration of corticosteroids. In contrast with humans, male rats that are infected with their species-specific hantavirus, Seoul virus (SEOV), have reduced proinflammatory and elevated regulatory T-cell responses in tissues where virus persists. To determine the effects of glucocorticoids on SEOV persistence and immune responses during infection, male and female Norway rats received sham surgeries (sham) or were adrenalectomized (ADX0), in some of which corticosterone was replaced at low (ADX10) or high (ADX80) doses. Rats were inoculated with SEOV and serum corticosterone, SEOV RNA, gene expression and protein production were measured at different time points post-inoculation. We observed that SEOV infection suppressed corticosterone in sham males to concentrations seen in ADX0 males. Furthermore, males with low corticosterone had more SEOV RNA in the lungs than either females or males with high corticosterone concentrations during peak infection. Although high concentrations of corticosterone suppressed the expression of innate antiviral and proinflammatory mediators to a greater extent in females than in males, these immunomodulatory effects did not correlate with SEOV load. Males with low corticosterone concentrations and high viral load had elevated regulatory T-cell responses and expression of matrix metalloprotease (MMP)-9. MMP-9 is a glycogenase that disrupts cellular matrices and may facilitate extravasation of SEOV-infected cells from circulation into lung tissue. Suppression of glucocorticoids may thus contribute to more efficient dissemination of SEOV in male than in female rats.
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