The severity of West Nile virus (WNV) infection in immunocompetent animals is highly strain dependent, ranging from avirulent to highly neuropathogenic. Here, we investigatethe nature of this strain-specific restriction by analyzing the replication of avirulent (WNV-MAD78) and highly virulent (WNV-NY) strains in neurons, astrocytes, and microvascular endothelial cells,which comprise the neurovascular unit within the central nervous system (CNS). We demonstrate that WNV-MAD78 replicated in and traversed brain microvascular endothelial cells as efficiently as WNV-NY. Likewise, similar levels of replication were detected in neurons. Thus, WNV-MAD78's nonneuropathogenic phenotype is not due to an intrinsic inability to replicate in key target cells within the CNS. In contrast, replication of WNV-MAD78 was delayed and reduced compared to that of WNV-NY in astrocytes. The reduced susceptibility of astrocytes to WNV-MAD78 was due to a delay in viral genome replication and an interferon-independent reduction in cell-to-cell spread. Together, our data suggest that astrocytes regulate WNV spread within the CNS and therefore are an attractive target for ameliorating WNV-induced neuropathology.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science