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Absence of a robust innate immune response in rat neurons facilitates persistent infection of Borna disease virus in neuronal tissue

Lin, Chia-Ching, Wu, Yuan-Ju, Heimrich, Bernd, Schwemmle, Martin
Cellular and molecular life sciences 2013 v.70 no.22 pp. 4399-4410
Borna disease virus, astrocytes, central nervous system, fibroblasts, gene expression, gene expression regulation, genes, hosts, innate immunity, interferon-alpha, mice, neurons, proteins, rats, secretion
Borna disease virus (BDV) persistently infects neurons of the central nervous system of various hosts, including rats. Since type I IFN-mediated antiviral response efficiently blocks BDV replication in primary rat embryo fibroblasts, it has been speculated that BDV is not effectively sensed by the host innate immune system in the nervous system. To test this assumption, organotypical rat hippocampal slice cultures were infected with BDV for up to 4 weeks. This resulted in the secretion of IFN and the up-regulation of IFN-stimulated genes. Using the rat Mx protein as a specific marker for IFN-induced gene expression, astrocytes and microglial cells were found to be Mx positive, whereas neurons, the major cell type in which BDV is replicating, lacked detectable levels of Mx protein. In uninfected cultures, neurons also remained Mx negative even after treatment with high concentrations of IFN-α. This non-responsiveness correlated with a lack of detectable nuclear translocation of both pSTAT1 and pSTAT2 in these cells. Consistently, neuronal dissemination of BDV was not prevented by treatment with IFN-α. These data suggest that the poor innate immune response in rat neurons renders this cell type highly susceptible to BDV infection even in the presence of exogenous IFN-α. Intriguingly, in contrast to rat neurons, IFN-α treatment of mouse neurons resulted in the up-regulation of Mx proteins and block of BDV replication, indicating species-specific differences in the type I IFN response of neurons between mice and rats.