Though compromised blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a pathological hallmark of WNV-associated neurological sequelae, underlying mechanisms are unclear. We characterized the expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) in WNV-infected human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMVE) and human brain cortical astrocytes (HBCA), components of BBB and their role in BBB disruption. Expression of multiple MMPs was significantly induced in WNV-infected HBCA cells. Naïve HBMVE cells incubated with the supernatant from WNV-infected HBCA cells demonstrated loss of tight junction proteins, which were rescued in the presence of MMP inhibitor, GM6001. Further, supernatant from WNV-infected HBCA cells compromised the in vitro BBB model integrity. Our data suggest astrocytes as one of the sources of MMP in the brain, which mediates BBB disruption allowing unrestricted entry of immune cells into the brain, thereby contributing to WNV neuropathogenesis. Because of the unavailability of WNV antivirals and vaccines, use of MMP inhibitors as an adjunct therapy to ameliorate WNV disease progression is warranted.
Neurological complications such as inflammation, failure of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and neuronal death contribute to the mortality and morbidity associated with WNV-induced meningitis. Compromised BBB indicates the ability of the virus to gain entry into the CNS via the BBB, however, the underlying mechanisms, and the specific cell types associated with WNV-CNS trafficking are not well understood. Brain microvascular endothelial cells, the main component of the BBB, represent a barrier to virus dissemination into the CNS and could play key role in WNV spread via hematogenous route. To investigate WNV entry into the CNS, we infected primary human brain microvascular endothelial (HBMVE) cells with the neurovirulent strain of WNV (NY99) and examined WNV replication kinetics together with the changes in the expressions of key tight junction proteins (TJP) and cell adhesion molecules (CAM). WNV infection of HBMVE cells was productive as analyzed by plaque assay and qRT-PCR, and did not induce cytopathic effect. Increased mRNA and protein expressions of TJP (claudin-1) and CAM (vascular cell adhesion molecule and E-selectin) were observed at days 2 and 3 after infection, respectively, which coincided with the peak in WNV replication. Further, using an in vitro BBB model comprised of HBMVE cells, we demonstrate that cell-free WNV can cross the BBB, without compromising the BBB integrity. These data suggest that infection of HBMVE cells can facilitate entry of cell-free virus into the CNS without disturbing the BBB, and increased CAM may assist in the trafficking of WNV-infected immune cells into the CNS, via Trojan horse mechanism, thereby contributing to WNV dissemination in the CNS and associated pathology.
West Nile virus (WNV) encephalitis is characterized by neuroinflammation, neuronal loss and blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption. However, the mechanisms associated with the BBB disruption are unclear. Complex interactions between the tight junction proteins (TJP) and the adherens junction proteins (AJP) of the brain microvascular endothelial cells are responsible for maintaining the BBB integrity. Herein, we characterized the relationship between the BBB disruption and expression kinetics of key TJP, AJP and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in the mice brain. A dramatic increase in the BBB permeability and extravasation of IgG was observed at later time points of the central nervous system (CNS) infection and did not precede virus-CNS entry. WNV-infected mice exhibited significant reduction in the protein levels of the TJP ZO-1, claudin-1, occludin and JAM-A, and AJP ?-catenin and vascular endothelial cadherin, which correlated with increased levels of MMP-1, -3 and -9 and infiltrated leukocytes in the brain. Further, intracranial inoculation of WNV also demonstrated increased extravasation of IgG in the brain, suggesting the role of virus replication in the CNS in BBB disruption. These data suggest that altered expression of junction proteins is a pathological event associated with WNV infection and may explain the molecular basis of BBB disruption. We propose that WNV initially enters CNS without altering the BBB integrity and later virus replication in the brain initiates BBB disruption, allowing enhanced infiltration of immune cells and contribute to virus neuroinvasion via the Trojan-horse route. These data further implicate roles of multiple MMPs in the BBB disruption and strategies to interrupt this process may influence the WNV disease outcome.
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