West Nile virus-induced disruption of the blood-brain barrier in mice is characterized by the degradation of the junctional complex proteins and increase in multiple matrix metalloproteinases

J Gen Virol. 2012 Jun;93(Pt 6):1193-1203. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.040899-0. Epub 2012 Mar 7.


West Nile virus (WNV) encephalitis is characterized by neuroinflammation, neuronal loss and blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption. However, the mechanisms associated with the BBB disruption are unclear. Complex interactions between the tight junction proteins (TJP) and the adherens junction proteins (AJP) of the brain microvascular endothelial cells are responsible for maintaining the BBB integrity. Herein, we characterized the relationship between the BBB disruption and expression kinetics of key TJP, AJP and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in the mice brain. A dramatic increase in the BBB permeability and extravasation of IgG was observed at later time points of the central nervous system (CNS) infection and did not precede virus-CNS entry. WNV-infected mice exhibited significant reduction in the protein levels of the TJP ZO-1, claudin-1, occludin and JAM-A, and AJP β-catenin and vascular endothelial cadherin, which correlated with increased levels of MMP-1, -3 and -9 and infiltrated leukocytes in the brain. Further, intracranial inoculation of WNV also demonstrated increased extravasation of IgG in the brain, suggesting the role of virus replication in the CNS in BBB disruption. These data suggest that altered expression of junction proteins is a pathological event associated with WNV infection and may explain the molecular basis of BBB disruption. We propose that WNV initially enters CNS without altering the BBB integrity and later virus replication in the brain initiates BBB disruption, allowing enhanced infiltration of immune cells and contribute to virus neuroinvasion via the 'Trojan-horse' route. These data further implicate roles of multiple MMPs in the BBB disruption and strategies to interrupt this process may influence the WNV disease outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / enzymology
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / virology
  • Humans
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 1 / genetics
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 1 / metabolism*
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 3 / genetics
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 3 / metabolism*
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9 / genetics
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9 / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Proteolysis
  • Tight Junctions / enzymology
  • Tight Junctions / genetics
  • Tight Junctions / metabolism*
  • Tight Junctions / virology
  • Up-Regulation
  • West Nile Fever / enzymology
  • West Nile Fever / genetics
  • West Nile Fever / metabolism*
  • West Nile Fever / virology
  • West Nile virus / genetics
  • West Nile virus / physiology*


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 3
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 1