Encephalitic alphaviruses exploit caveola-mediated transcytosis at the blood-brain barrier for central nervous system entry

Hamid Salimi, Matthew D. Cain, Xiaoping Jiang, Robyn A. Roth, Wandy L. Beatty, Chengqun Sun, William B. Klimstra, Jianghui Hou, Robyn S. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Venezuelan and western equine encephalitis viruses (VEEV and WEEV, re-spectively) invade the central nervous system (CNS) early during infection, via neuronal and hematogenous routes. While viral replication mediates host shutoff, including expression of type I interferons (IFN), few studies have addressed how alphaviruses gain access to the CNS during established infection or the mechanisms of viral crossing at the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Here, we show that hematogenous dissemination of VEEV and WEEV into the CNS occurs via caveolin-1 (Cav-1)-mediated transcytosis (Cav-MT) across an intact BBB, which is impeded by IFN and inhibitors of RhoA GTPase. Use of reporter and nonreplicative strains also demonstrates that IFN signaling mediates viral restriction within cells comprising the neurovascular unit (NVU), differentially rendering brain endothelial cells, pericytes, and astrocytes permissive to viral replication. Transmission and immunoelectron microscopy revealed early events in virus internalization and Cav-1 association within brain endothelial cells. Cav-1-deficient mice exhibit diminished CNS VEEV and WEEV titers during early infection, whereas viral burdens in peripheral tissues remained unchanged. Our findings show that alphaviruses exploit Cav-MT to enter the CNS and that IFN differentially restricts this process at the BBB. IMPORTANCE VEEV, WEEV, and eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) are emerging infectious diseases in the Americas, and they have caused several major outbreaks in the human and horse population during the past few decades. Shortly after infection, these viruses can infect the CNS, resulting in severe long-term neurological deficits or death. Neuroinvasion has been associated with virus entry into the CNS directly from the bloodstream; however, the underlying molecular mechanisms have remained largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate that following peripheral infection alphavirus augments vesicular formation/trafficking at the BBB and utilizes Cav-MT to cross an intact BBB, a process regulated by activators of Rho GTPases within brain endothelium. In vivo examination of early viral entry in Cav-1-deficient mice revealed significantly lower viral burdens in the brain than in similarly infected wild-type animals. These studies identify a potentially targetable pathway to limit neuroinvasion by alphaviruses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02731-19
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Alphavirus
  • Blood-brain barrier
  • Caveola-mediated transcytosis
  • Caveolin-1
  • In vivo animal model
  • Transcytosis assay
  • Type I interferon
  • Venezuelan encephalitis virus
  • Western equine encephalitis virus


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