Theranostics 2017; 7(4):912-925. doi:10.7150/thno.16615

Research Paper

Visualization of a neurotropic flavivirus infection in mouse reveals unique viscerotropism controlled by host type I interferon signaling

Xiao-Feng Li1*, Xiao-Dan Li2*, Cheng-Lin Deng2*, Hao-Long Dong1*, Qiu-Yan Zhang2, Qing Ye1, Han-Qing Ye2, Xing-Yao Huang1, Yong-Qiang Deng1, Bo Zhang2✉, Cheng-Feng Qin1✉

1. Department of Virology, State Key Laboratory of Pathogen and Biosecurity, Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, Beijing 100071, China;
2. CAS Key Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety, Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Science, Wuhan 430072, China.
*These authors contributed equally to this work.


Flavivirus includes a large group of human pathogens with medical importance. Especially, neurotropic flaviviruses capable of invading central and peripheral nervous system, e.g. Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) and Zika virus (ZIKV), are highly pathogenic to human and constitute major global health problems. However, the dynamic dissemination and pathogenesis of neurotropic flavivirus infections remain largely unknown. Here, using JEV as a model, we rationally designed and constructed a recombinant reporter virus that stably expressed Renilla luciferase (Rluc). The resulting JEV reporter virus (named Rluc-JEV) and parental JEV exhibited similar replication and infection characteristics, and the magnitude of Rluc activity correlated well with progeny viral production in vitro and in vivo. By using in vivo bioluminescence imaging (BLI) technology, we dissected the replication and dissemination dynamics of JEV infection in mice upon different inoculation routes. Interestingly, besides replicating in mouse brain, Rluc-JEV predominantly invaded the abdominal organs in mice with typical viscerotropism. Further tests in mice deficient in type I interferon (IFN) receptors demonstrated robust and prolonged viral replication in the intestine, spleen, liver, kidney and other abdominal organs. Combined with histopathological and immunohistochemical results, the host type I IFN signaling was evidenced as the major barrier to the viscerotropism and pathogenicity of this neurotropic flavivirus. Additionally, the Rluc-JEV platform was readily adapted for efficacy assay of known antiviral compounds and a live JE vaccine. Collectively, our study revealed abdominal organs as important targets of JEV infection in mice and profiled the unique viscerotropism trait controlled by the host type I IFN signaling. This in vivo visualization technology described here provides a powerful tool for testing antiviral agents and vaccine candidates for flaviviral infection.

Keywords: Flavivirus, Japanese encephalitis virus, Bioluminescence imaging, Mouse, Interferon signaling.

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How to cite this article:
Li XF, Li XD, Deng CL, Dong HL, Zhang QY, Ye Q, Ye HQ, Huang XY, Deng YQ, Zhang B, Qin CF. Visualization of a neurotropic flavivirus infection in mouse reveals unique viscerotropism controlled by host type I interferon signaling. Theranostics 2017; 7(4):912-925. doi:10.7150/thno.16615. Available from