Caspase 3-dependent cell death of neurons contributes to the pathogenesis of West Nile virus encephalitis

Melanie A. Samuel, John D. Morrey, Michael S. Diamond

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125 Scopus citations

Abstract

West Nile virus (WNV) is a neurotropic, arthropod-borne flavivirus that has become a significant global cause of viral encephalitis. To examine the mechanisms of WNV-induced neuronal death and the importance of apoptosis in pathogenesis, we evaluated the role of a key apoptotic regulator, caspase 3. WNV infection induced caspase 3 activation and apoptosis in the brains of wild-type mice. Notably, congenic caspase 3-/- mice were more resistant to lethal WNV infection, although there were no significant differences in the tissue viral burdens or the kinetics of viral spread. Instead, decreased neuronal death was observed in the cerebral cortices, brain stems, and cerebella of caspase 3-/- mice. Analogously, primary central nervous system (CNS)-derived neurons demonstrated caspase 3 activation and apoptosis after WNV infection, and treatment with caspase inhibitors or a genetic deficiency in caspase 3 significantly decreased virus-induced death. These studies establish that caspase 3-dependent apoptosis contributes to the pathogenesis of lethal WNV encephalitis and suggest possible novel therapeutic targets to restrict CNS injury.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2614-2623
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of virology
Volume81
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2007

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