Persistence of West Nile virus in the central nervous system and periphery of mice

PLoS One. 2010 May 14;5(5):e10649. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010649.


Most acute infections with RNA viruses are transient and subsequently cleared from the host. Recent evidence, however, suggests that the RNA virus, West Nile virus (WNV), not only causes acute disease, but can persist long term in humans and animal models. Our goal in this study was to develop a mouse model of WNV persistence. We inoculated immunocompetent mice subcutaneously (s.c.) with WNV and examined their tissues for infectious virus and WNV RNA for 16 months (mo) post-inoculation (p.i.). Infectious WNV persisted for 1 mo p.i. in all mice and for 4 mo p.i. in 12% of mice, and WNV RNA persisted for up to 6 mo p.i. in 12% of mice. The frequency of persistence was tissue dependent and was in the following order: skin, spinal cord, brain, lymphoid tissues, kidney, and heart. Viral persistence occurred in the face of a robust antibody response and in the presence of inflammation in the brain. Furthermore, persistence in the central nervous system (CNS) and encephalitis were observed even in mice with subclinical infections. Mice were treated at 1 mo p.i. with cyclophosphamide, and active viral replication resulted, suggesting that lymphocytes are functional during viral persistence. In summary, WNV persisted in the CNS and periphery of mice for up to 6 mo p.i. in mice with subclinical infections. These results have implications for WNV-infected humans. In particular, immunosuppressed patients, organ transplantation, and long term sequelae may be impacted by WNV persistence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation / drug effects
  • Antibody Specificity / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Central Nervous System / virology*
  • Cyclophosphamide / pharmacology
  • Immunosuppression
  • Longevity / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Organ Specificity / drug effects
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / isolation & purification
  • Recurrence
  • West Nile Fever / immunology
  • West Nile Fever / pathology
  • West Nile Fever / virology
  • West Nile virus / drug effects
  • West Nile virus / genetics
  • West Nile virus / physiology*


  • RNA, Viral
  • Cyclophosphamide