Theranostics 2022; 12(12):5317-5329. doi:10.7150/thno.75123 This issue

Research Paper

Recapitulating influenza virus infection and facilitating antiviral and neuroprotective screening in tractable brain organoids

Xiaodong Zhang1*, Haishuang Lin1,2✉*, Liangzhen Dong1*, Qing Xia1✉

1. Department of Chemical Biology, State Key Laboratory of Natural and Biomimetic Drugs, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China.
2. Institute of Laboratory Animal Science, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Comparative Medicine Center, Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China.
*These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Zhang X, Lin H, Dong L, Xia Q. Recapitulating influenza virus infection and facilitating antiviral and neuroprotective screening in tractable brain organoids. Theranostics 2022; 12(12):5317-5329. doi:10.7150/thno.75123. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Human pluripotent stem cell derived brain organoids offer an unprecedented opportunity for various applications as in vitro model. Currently, human brain organoids as models have been used to understand virus-induced neurotoxicity.

Methods: The brain organoids were separately challenged by multiple viruses including influenza viruses (H1N1-WSN and H3N2-HKT68), Enteroviruses (EV68 and EV71) and Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome Virus (SFTSV) to investigate the impaired effect of these viruses on human brain development.

Results: The brain organoids challenged by influenza viruses had decreased overall organoid size, while enteroviruses infected brain organoids displayed the opposite result. Then, we found WSN preferentially infected MAP2+ neurons compared to SOX2+ neural stem cells (NSCs) and GFAP+ astrocytes in brain organoids, and induced apoptosis of NSCs and neurons, and released inflammatory factors (TNF-α, INF-γ, and IL-6), facilitating brain damage. Furthermore, transcriptional profiling revealed several co-upregulated genes (CSAG3 and OAS2) and co-downregulated genes (CDC20B, KCNJ13, OTX2-AS1) after WSN infection for 24 hpi and 96 hpi, implicating target for antiviral drugs development. Finally, we explored compound PYC-12 could significantly suppress virus infection, apoptosis, and inflammatory responses.

Conclusions: Collectively, we established a tractable experimental model to investigate the impact and mechanism of virus infection on human brain development.

Keywords: Influenza virus, Brain organoids, Human pluripotent stem cells, RNA transcriptomic profiling, Antiviral screening.