Proinflammatory response during Ebola virus infection of primate models: possible involvement of the tumor necrosis factor receptor superfamily

Immunol Lett. 2002 Mar 1;80(3):169-79. doi: 10.1016/s0165-2478(01)00327-3.


Ebola virus (EBOV) infections are characterized by dysregulation of normal host immune responses. Insight into the mechanism came from recent studies in nonhuman primates, which showed that EBOV infects cells of the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS), resulting in apoptosis of bystander lymphocytes. In this study, we evaluated serum levels of cytokines/chemokines in EBOV-infected nonhuman primates, as possible correlates of this bystander apoptosis. Increased levels of interferon (IFN)-alpha, IFN-beta, interleukin (IL)-6, IL-18, MIP-1alpha, and MIP-1beta were observed in all EBOV-infected monkeys, indicating the occurrence of a strong proinflammatory response. To investigate the mechanism(s) involved in lymphoid apoptosis, soluble Fas (sFas) and nitrate accumulation were measured. sFas was detected in 4/9 animals, while, elevations of nitrate accumulation occurred in 3/3 animals. To further evaluate the potential role of these factors in the observed bystander apoptosis and intact animals, in vitro cultures were prepared of adherent human monocytes/macrophages (PHM), and monocytes differentiated into immature dendritic cells (DC). These cultures were infected with EBOV and analyzed for cytokine/chemokine induction and expression of apoptosis-related genes. In addition, the in vitro EBOV infection of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) resulted in strong cytokine/chemokine induction, a marked increase in lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activity, and an increase in the number of apoptotic lymphocytes examined by electron microscopy. Increased levels of sFAS were detected in PHM cultures, although, <10% of the cells were positive by immunohistochemistry. In contrast, >90% of EBOV-infected PHM were positive for tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) by immunohistochemistry, RNA analysis, and flow cytometry. Inactivated EBOV also effected increased TRAIL expression in PHM, suggesting that the TNF receptor superfamily may be involved in apoptosis of the host lymphoid cells, and that induction may occur independent of viral replication. In further studies with infected PHM, expression of MHC II was remarkably suppressed after 6 days, an additional correlate of immunological dysregulation. In conclusion, our findings suggest that infection of mononuclear phagocytes is critical, triggering a cascade of events involving cytokines/chemokines and oxygen free radicals. It is the consequence of these events rather than direct viral infection that results in much of the observed pathology. Identification of cytokine/chemokine, nitric oxide, and reactive oxygen species involvement in the observed filoviral pathogenesis may lend insight into the rational design of therapeutic countermeasures of filoviral pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Apoptosis* / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / immunology*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / pathology*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / virology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation / virology
  • Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Lymphocytes / ultrastructure
  • Lymphocytes / virology
  • Macaca / immunology*
  • Macaca / virology*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nitrates / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor / metabolism*
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • Time Factors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism
  • fas Receptor / metabolism


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Cytokines
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Nitrates
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • TNFSF10 protein, human
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • fas Receptor