Clearance of Chikungunya Virus Infection in Lymphoid Tissues Is Promoted by Treatment with an Agonistic Anti-CD137 Antibody

J Virol. 2019 Nov 26;93(24):e01231-19. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01231-19. Print 2019 Dec 15.


CD137, a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor superfamily of cell surface proteins, acts as a costimulatory receptor on T cells, natural killer cells, B cell subsets, and some dendritic cells. Agonistic anti-CD137 monoclonal antibody (MAb) therapy has been combined with other chemotherapeutic agents in human cancer trials. Based on its ability to promote tumor clearance, we hypothesized that anti-CD137 MAb might activate immune responses and resolve chronic viral infections. We evaluated anti-CD137 MAb therapy in a mouse infection model of chikungunya virus (CHIKV), an alphavirus that causes chronic polyarthritis in humans and is associated with reservoirs of CHIKV RNA that are not cleared efficiently by adaptive immune responses. Analysis of viral tropism revealed that CHIKV RNA was present preferentially in splenic B cells and follicular dendritic cells during the persistent phase of infection, and animals lacking B cells did not develop persistent CHIKV infection in lymphoid tissue. Anti-CD137 MAb treatment resulted in T cell-dependent clearance of CHIKV RNA in lymphoid tissue, although this effect was not observed in musculoskeletal tissue. The clearance of CHIKV RNA from lymphoid tissue by anti-CD137 MAb was associated with reductions in the numbers of germinal center B cells and follicular dendritic cells. Similar results were observed with anti-CD137 MAb treatment of mice infected with Mayaro virus, a related arthritogenic alphavirus. Thus, anti-CD137 MAb treatment promotes resolution of chronic alphavirus infection in lymphoid tissues by reducing the numbers of target cells for infection and persistence.IMPORTANCE Although CHIKV causes persistent infection in lymphoid and musculoskeletal tissues in multiple animals, the basis for this is poorly understood, which has hampered pharmacological efforts to promote viral clearance. Here, we evaluated the therapeutic effects on persistent CHIKV infection of an agonistic anti-CD137 MAb that can activate T cell and natural killer cell responses to clear tumors. We show that treatment with anti-CD137 MAb promotes the clearance of persistent alphavirus RNA from lymphoid but not musculoskeletal tissues. This occurs because anti-CD137 MAb-triggered T cells reduce the numbers of target germinal center B cells and follicular dendritic cells, which are the primary reservoirs for CHIKV in the spleen and lymph nodes. Our studies help to elucidate the basis for CHIKV persistence and begin to provide strategies that can clear long-term cellular reservoirs of infection.

Keywords: adaptive immunity; alphavirus; pathogenesis; viral immunity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Chikungunya Fever / immunology*
  • Chikungunya Fever / virology
  • Chikungunya virus / drug effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Lymphoid Tissue / virology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • RNA, Viral
  • Spleen / virology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Superfamily, Member 9 / immunology*
  • Viral Tropism


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • RNA, Viral
  • TNFRSF9 protein, human
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Superfamily, Member 9