The role of the blood-brain barrier during venezuelan equine encephalitis virus infection

Alexandra Schäfer, Christopher B. Brooke, Alan C. Whitmore, Robert E. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) virus is a mosquito-borne alphavirus associated with sporadic outbreaks in human and equid populations in the Western Hemisphere. After the bite of an infected mosquito, the virus initiates a biphasic disease: a peripheral phase with viral replication in lymphoid and myeloid tissues, followed by a neurotropic phase with infection of central nervous system (CNS) neurons, causing neuropathology and in some cases fatal encephalitis. The mechanisms allowing VEE virus to enter the CNS are currently poorly understood. Previous data have shown that the virus gains access to the CNS by infecting olfactory sensory neurons in the nasal mucosa of mice. However, at day 5 after inoculation, the infection of the brain is multifocal, indicating that virus particles are able to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB). To better understand the role of the BBB during VEE virus infection, we used a well-characterized mouse model system. Using VEE virus replicon particles (VRP), we modeled the early events of neuroinvasion, showing that the replication of VRP in the nasal mucosa induced the opening of the BBB, allowing peripherally administered VRP to invade the brain. Peripheral VEE virus infection was characterized by a biphasic opening of the BBB. Further, inhibition of BBB opening resulted in a delayed viral neuroinvasion and pathogenesis. Overall, these results suggest that VEE virus initially enters the CNS through the olfactory pathways and initiates viral replication in the brain, which induces the opening of the BBB, allowing a second wave of invading virus from the periphery to enter the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10682-10690
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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