Differentiation of neurons restricts Arbovirus replication and increases expression of the alpha isoform of IRF-7

J Virol. 2015 Jan;89(1):48-60. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02394-14. Epub 2014 Oct 15.


Susceptibility to alphavirus infection is age dependent, and host maturation is associated with decreased virus replication and less severe encephalitis. To identify factors associated with maturation-dependent restriction of virus replication, we studied AP-7 rat olfactory bulb neuronal cells, which can differentiate in vitro. Differentiation was associated with a 150- to 1,000-fold decrease in replication of the alphaviruses Sindbis virus and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, as well as La Crosse bunyavirus. Differentiation delayed synthesis of SINV RNA and protein but did not alter the susceptibility of neurons to infection or virion maturation. Additionally, differentiation slowed virus-induced translation arrest and death of infected cells. Differentiation of uninfected AP-7 neurons was associated with changes in expression of antiviral genes. Expression of key transcription factors was increased, including interferon regulatory factor 3 and 7 (IRF-3 and IRF-7) and STAT-1, suggesting that neuronal maturation may enhance the capacity for antiviral signaling upon infection. IRF-7 produced by undifferentiated AP-7 neurons was exclusively the short dominant negative γ-isoform, while that produced by differentiated neurons was the full-length α-isoform. A similar switch in IRF-7 isoforms also occurred in the brains of maturing C57BL/6J mice. Silencing of IRF expression did not improve virus multiplication in differentiated neurons. Therefore, neuronal differentiation is associated with upregulation of transcription factors that activate antiviral signaling, but this alone does not account for maturation-dependent restriction of virus replication.

Importance: Viral encephalomyelitis is an important cause of age-dependent morbidity and mortality. Because mature neurons are not readily regenerated, recovery from encephalitis suggests that mature neurons utilize unique antiviral mechanisms to block infection and/or clear virus. To identify maturational changes in neurons that may improve outcome, we compared immature and mature cultured neurons for susceptibility to three encephalitic arboviruses and found that replication of Old World and New World alphaviruses and a bunyavirus was reduced in mature compared to immature neurons. Neuronal maturation was associated with increased baseline expression of interferon regulatory factor 3 and 7 mRNAs and production of distinct isoforms of interferon regulatory factor 7 protein. Overall, our studies identified maturational changes in neurons that likely contribute to assembly of immunoregulatory factors prior to infection, a more rapid antiviral response, increased resistance to virus infection, and improved survival.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Encephalitis Virus, Venezuelan Equine / immunology*
  • Encephalitis Virus, Venezuelan Equine / physiology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Interferon Regulatory Factor-7 / biosynthesis*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / immunology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurons / virology*
  • Orthobunyavirus / immunology*
  • Orthobunyavirus / physiology
  • Protein Isoforms / biosynthesis
  • Rats
  • Sindbis Virus / immunology*
  • Sindbis Virus / physiology
  • Virus Replication*


  • Interferon Regulatory Factor-7
  • Protein Isoforms