Studies of human infectious diseases have been limited by the paucity of functional models that mimic normal human physiology and pathophysiology. Recent advances in the development of multicellular, physiologically active organotypic cultures produced from embryonic and pluripotent stem cells, as well as from stem cells isolated from biopsies and surgical specimens are allowing unprecedented new studies and discoveries about host-microbe interactions. Here, we summarize recent developments in the use of organoids for studying human viral pathogens, including intestinal infections with human rotavirus, norovirus, enteroviruses and adenoviruses (intestinal organoids and enteroids), neuronal infections with Zika virus (cerebral organoids) and respiratory infections with respiratory syncytial virus in (lung bud organoids). Biologic discovery of host-specific genetic and epigenetic factors affecting infection, and responses to infection that lead to disease are possible with the use of organoid cultures. Continued development to increase the complexity of these cultures by including components of the normal host tissue microenvironment such as immune cells, blood vessels and microbiome, will facilitate studies on human viral pathogenesis, and advance the development of platforms for pre-clinical evaluation of vaccines, antivirals and therapeutics.
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