The Immune Responses of the Animal Hosts of West Nile Virus: A Comparison of Insects, Birds, and Mammals

Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2018 Apr 3:8:96. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2018.00096. eCollection 2018.


Vector-borne diseases, including arboviruses, pose a serious threat to public health worldwide. Arboviruses of the flavivirus genus, such as Zika virus (ZIKV), dengue virus, yellow fever virus (YFV), and West Nile virus (WNV), are transmitted to humans from insect vectors and can cause serious disease. In 2017, over 2,000 reported cases of WNV virus infection occurred in the United States, with two-thirds of cases classified as neuroinvasive. WNV transmission cycles through two different animal populations: birds and mosquitoes. Mammals, particularly humans and horses, can become infected through mosquito bites and represent dead-end hosts of WNV infection. Because WNV can infect diverse species, research on this arbovirus has investigated the host response in mosquitoes, birds, humans, and horses. With the growing geographical range of the WNV mosquito vector and increased human exposure, improved surveillance and treatment of the infection will enhance public health in areas where WNV is endemic. In this review, we survey the bionomics of mosquito species involved in Nearctic WNV transmission. Subsequently, we describe the known immune response pathways that counter WNV infection in insects, birds, and mammals, as well as the mechanisms known to curb viral infection. Moreover, we discuss the bacterium Wolbachia and its involvement in reducing flavivirus titer in insects. Finally, we highlight the similarities of the known immune pathways and identify potential targets for future studies aimed at improving antiviral therapeutic and vaccination design.

Keywords: Culex; West Nile virus; host response; innate immunity; vector-borne disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / genetics
  • Birds / immunology*
  • Birds / virology
  • Humans
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Insecta / immunology*
  • Insecta / virology
  • Mammals / genetics
  • Mammals / immunology*
  • Mammals / virology
  • West Nile Fever / genetics
  • West Nile Fever / immunology*
  • West Nile Fever / veterinary*
  • West Nile Fever / virology
  • West Nile virus / genetics
  • West Nile virus / physiology*