Experimental Zika virus infection induces spinal cord injury and encephalitis in newborn Swiss mice

Exp Toxicol Pathol. 2017 Feb;69(2):63-71. doi: 10.1016/j.etp.2016.11.004. Epub 2016 Nov 26.


A widespread epidemic of Zika virus (ZIKV) infection was reported in 2015 in South and Central America, with neurological symptons including meningoencephalitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults, besides an apparent increased incidence of microcephaly in infants born to infected mothers. It is becoming a necessity to have a trustworthy animal model to better understand ZIKV infection. In this study we used newborn white Swiss mice as a model to investigate the ZIKV strain recently isolated in Brazil. ZIKV was inoculated via intracerebral and subcutaneous routes and analysed through gross histopathology and immunohistochemistry. Here we demonstrated first that the intracerebral group (ICG) displayed severe cerebral lesions, with neuronal death, presence of apoptotic bodies, white matter degeneration and neutrophil perivascular cuffing. In the subcutaneous group (SCG), we observed moderate cerebral lesions, morphologically similar to that found in ICG and additional myelopathy, with architectural loss, marked by neuronal death and apoptotic bodies. Interestingly, we found an intense astrogliosis in brain of both groups, with increased immunoexpression of GFAP (glial fibrillary acidic protein) and presence of hypertrophic astrocytes. The spinal cord of subcutaneous group (SCG) exhibited reduction of astrocytes, but those positive for GFAP were hypertrophic and presented prolonged cellular processes. Finally significant lesions in the central nervous system (CNS) were present in newborn mice inoculated by both routes, but SCG method led to an important neurological manifestations (including myelopathy), during a longer period of time and appears for us to be a better model for ZIKV infection.

Keywords: Brain; Encephalopathy; Flavivirus; Mouse; Myelitis; Pathology.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Brain / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Encephalitis / pathology
  • Encephalitis / virology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Myelitis / pathology
  • Myelitis / virology*
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Zika Virus Infection / pathology*