Countering aerosolized filovirus infection is a major priority of biodefense research. Aerosol models of filovirus infection have been developed in knock-out mice, guinea pigs and non-human primates; however, filovirus infection of immunocompetent mice by the aerosol route has not been reported. A murine model of aerosolized filovirus infection in mice should be useful for screening vaccine candidates and therapies. In this study, various strains of wild-type and immunocompromised mice were exposed to aerosolized wild-type (WT) or mouse-adapted (MA) Ebola virus (EBOV). Upon exposure to aerosolized WT-EBOV, BALB/c, C57BL/6 (B6), and DBA/2 (D2) mice were unaffected, but 100% of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and 90% of signal transducers and activators of transcription (Stat1) knock-out (KO) mice became moribund between 7-9 days post-exposure (dpe). Exposure to MA-EBOV caused 15% body weight loss in BALB/c, but all mice recovered. In contrast, 10-30% lethality was observed in B6 and D2 mice exposed to aerosolized MA-EBOV, and 100% of SCID, Stat1KO, interferon (IFN)-γ KO and Perforin KO mice became moribund between 7-14 dpe. In order to identify wild-type, inbred, mouse strains in which exposure to aerosolized MA-EBOV is uniformly lethal, 60 BXD (C57BL/6 crossed with DBA2) recombinant inbred (RI) and advanced RI (ARI) mouse strains were exposed to aerosolized MA-EBOV, and monitored for disease severity. A complete spectrum of disease severity was observed. All BXD strains lost weight but many recovered. However, infection was uniformly lethal within 7 to 12 days post-exposure in five BXD strains. Aerosol exposure of these five BXD strains to 10-fold less MA-EBOV resulted in lethality ranging from 0% in two strains to 90-100% lethality in two strains. Analysis of post-mortem tissue from BXD strains that became moribund and were euthanized at the lower dose of MA-EBOV, showed liver damage in all mice as well as lung lesions in two of the three strains. The two BXD strains that exhibited 90-100% mortality, even at a low dose of airborne MA-EBOV will be useful mouse models for testing vaccines and therapies. Additionally, since disease susceptibility is affected by complex genetic traits, a systems genetics approach was used to identify preliminary gene loci modulating disease severity among the panel BXD strains. Preliminary quantitative trait loci (QTLs) were identified that are likely to harbor genes involved in modulating differential susceptibility to Ebola infection.
Keywords: Ebola, ebolavirus, filovirus, aerosol, mouse, BXD, recombinant inbred.