Zika Virus Replication in Myeloid Cells during Acute Infection Is Vital to Viral Dissemination and Pathogenesis in a Mouse Model

Erin M. McDonald, John Anderson, Jeff Wilusz, Gregory D. Ebel, Aaron C. Brault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Zika virus (ZIKV) can establish infection in immune privileged sites such as the testes, eye, and placenta. Whether ZIKV infection of white blood cells is required for dissemination of the virus to immune privileged sites has not been definitively shown. To assess whether initial ZIKV replication in myeloid cell populations is critical for dissemination during acute infection, recombinant ZIKVs were generated that could not replicate in these specific cells. ZIKV was cell restricted by insertion of a complementary sequence to a myeloid-specific microRNA in the 3= untranslated region. Following inoculation of a highly sensitive immunodeficient mouse model, crucial immune parameters, such as quantification of leukocyte cell subsets, cytokine and chemokine secretion, and viremia, were assessed. Decreased neutrophil numbers in the spleen were observed during acute infection with myeloid-restricted ZIKV that precluded the generation of viremia and viral dissemination to peripheral organs. Mice inoculated with a nontarget microRNA control ZIKV demonstrated increased expression of key cytokines and chemokines critical for neutrophil and monocyte recruitment and increased neutrophil influx in the spleen. In addition, ZIKV-infected Ly6Chi monocytes were identified in vivo in the spleen. Mice inoculated with myeloid-restricted ZIKV had a decrease in Ly6Chi ZIKV RNA-positive monocytes and a lack of inflammatory cytokine production compared to mice inoculated with control ZIKV. IMPORTANCE Myeloid cells, including monocytes, play a crucial role in immune responses to pathogens. Monocytes have also been implicated as “Trojan horses” during viral infections, carrying infectious virus particles to immune privileged sites and/or to sites protected by physical blood-tissue barriers, such as the blood-testis barrier and the blood-brain barrier. In this study, we found that myeloid cells are crucial to Zika virus (ZIKV) pathogenesis. By engineering ZIKV clones to encode myeloid-specific microRNA target sequences, viral replication was inhibited in myeloid cells by harnessing the RNA interference pathway. Severely immunodeficient mice inoculated with myeloid-restricted ZIKV did not demonstrate clinical signs of disease and survived infection. Furthermore, viral dissemination to peripheral organs was not observed in these mice. Lastly, we identified Ly6Cmid/hi murine monocytes as the major myeloid cell population that disseminates ZIKV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00838-20
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Oct 14 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • MiRNA
  • Monocyte
  • Myeloid
  • Sexual transmission
  • Zika virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


Dive into the research topics of 'Zika Virus Replication in Myeloid Cells during Acute Infection Is Vital to Viral Dissemination and Pathogenesis in a Mouse Model'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this