Background: West Nile virus (WNV) persists in humans and several animal models. We previously demonstrated that WNV persists in the central nervous system (CNS) of mice for up to 6 months post-inoculation. We hypothesized that the CNS immune response is ineffective in clearing the virus.
Results: Immunocompetent, adult mice were inoculated subcutaneously with WNV, and the CNS immune response was examined at 1, 2, 4, 8, 12 and 16 weeks post-inoculation (wpi). Characterization of lymphocyte phenotypes in the CNS revealed elevation of CD19+ B cells for 4 wpi, CD138 plasma cells at 12 wpi, and CD4+ and CD8+ T cells for at least 12 wpi. T cells recruited to the brain were activated, and regulatory T cells (Tregs) were present for at least 12 wpi. WNV-specific antibody secreting cells were detected in the brain from 2 to 16 wpi, and virus-specific CD8+ T cells directed against an immunodominant WNV epitope were detected in the brain from 1 to 16 wpi. Furthermore, these WNV-specific immune responses occurred in mice with and without acute clinical disease.
Conclusions: Virus-specific immune cells persist in the CNS of mice after WNV infection for up to 16 wpi.