Neuronal cell death in alphavirus encephalomyelitis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Alphaviruses are mosquito-borne, enveloped, plus-strand RNA viruses that cause a spectrum of diseases in humans that include fever, rash, arthritis, meningitis, and encephalomyelitis. Sindbis virus (SINV) is the prototype alphavirus, causes encephalomyelitis in mice, and provides a model system for studying the pathogenesis of alphavirus-induced neurological disease. Major target cells for SINV infection in the central nervous system (CNS) are neurons, and both host and viral factors determine the fate of infected neurons. Young animals are most susceptible to fatal disease. This correlates with the ability of SINV to induce apoptosis in immature neurons. In vitro, apoptotic death of neuroblastoma cells can be induced by fusion of the virus envelope with the endosomal membrane and does not require infectious virus. This fusion process activates acid sphingomyelinase that cleaves sphingomyelin to release ceramide, an initiator of apoptosis. Within an hour, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase is activated, and this is followed by release of cytochrome c and activation of effector caspases. SINV-induced cell death can be delayed or prevented by treatment with antioxidants or caspase inhibitors and by intracellular expression of Bcl-2, Beclin-1, or protease inhibitors. Older animals survive infection unless infected with a neurovirulent strain of SINV. In these mice, anterior horn motor neurons die by a primarily necrotic process that is influenced by excitotoxic amino acids and inflammation, whereas hippocampal neurons can be either apoptotic or necrotic. Death also occurs in uninfected neurons in the vicinity of infected neurons and can be delayed or prevented by treatment with glutamate receptor antagonists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-77
Number of pages21
JournalCurrent topics in microbiology and immunology
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Neuronal cell death in alphavirus encephalomyelitis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this