Cellular stress response to varicella-zoster virus infection of human skin includes highly elevated interleukin-6 expression

Keith W. Jarosinski, John E. Carpenter, Erin M. Buckingham, Wallen Jackson, Kevin Knudtson, Jennifer F. Moffat, Hirohito Kita, Charles Grose

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The infectious cycle of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) after reactivation from the dorsal root ganglia includes replication and assembly of complete enveloped virions in the human skin to cause the characteristic herpes zoster (shingles). Methods: To pursue studies of innate immunity to VZV infection, we have adapted a fetal skin organ culture model to a human neonatal foreskin explant model. Results: Abundant expression of VZV IE62, gE, and gC was visualized by confocal microscopy while numerous enveloped virions were observed by electron microscopy in infected skin organ cultures. Microarray experiments demonstrated that the patterns of upregulated transcripts differed between VZV-infected cells and VZV-infected skin explants. One result stood out, namely a >30-fold elevated interleukin (IL)-6 level in the infected skin explant that was not present in the infected monolayer culture. The IL-6 results in the polyermase chain reaction (PCR) assay were reproduced by quantitative PCR testing with newly designed primers. To determine if increased transcription was accompanied by increased IL-6 expression, we quantitated the levels of IL-6 protein in the explant media at increasing intervals after infection. We found a statistically significant increase in IL-6 protein levels secreted into the media from VZV-infected skin explants as compared with mock-infected explants. Conclusions: The cellular stress response to VZV infection in neonatal skin explants included highly elevated levels of IL-6 transcription and expression. This skin organ model could be adapted to other viruses with a skin tropism, such as herpes simplex virus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalOpen Forum Infectious Diseases
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Autophagy
  • Cytokines
  • Herpes virus
  • Human skin
  • Tocilizumab

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Oncology


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