Background: Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a severe neuropathological disorder caused by tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV). Brain TBEV infection is characterized by extensive pathological neuroinflammation. The mechanism by which TBEV causes CNS destruction remains unclear, but growing evidence suggests that it involves both direct neuronal damage by the virus infection and indirect damage caused by the immune response. Here, we aimed to examine the TBEV-infection-induced innate immune response in mice and in human neural cells. We also compared cytokine/chemokine communication between naïve and infected neuronal cells and astrocytes.
Methods: We used a multiplexed Luminex system to measure multiple cytokines/chemokines and growth factors in mouse serum samples and brain tissue, and in human neuroblastoma cells (SK-N-SH) and primary cortical astrocytes (HBCA), which were infected with the highly pathogenic TBEV strain Hypr. We also investigated changes in cytokine/chemokine production in naïve HBCA cells treated with virus-free supernatants from TBEV-infected SK-N-SH cells and in naïve SK-N-SH cells treated with virus-free supernatants from TBEV-infected HBCA cells. Additionally, a plaque assay was performed to assess how cytokine/chemokine treatment influenced viral growth following TBEV infection.
Results: TBEV-infected mice exhibited time-dependent increases in serum and brain tissue concentrations of multiple cytokines/chemokines (mainly CXCL10/IP-10, and also CXCL1, G-CSF, IL-6, and others). TBEV-infected SK-N-SH cells exhibited increased production of IL-8 and RANTES and downregulated MCP-1 and HGF. TBEV infection of HBCA cells activated production of a broad spectrum of pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors (mainly IL-6, IL-8, CXCL10, RANTES, and G-CSF) and downregulated the expression of VEGF. Treatment of SK-N-SH with supernatants from infected HBCA induced expression of a variety of chemokines and pro-inflammatory cytokines, reduced SK-N-SH mortality after TBEV infection, and decreased virus growth in these cells. Treatment of HBCA with supernatants from infected SK-N-SH had little effect on cytokine/chemokine/growth factor expression but reduced TBEV growth in these cells after infection.
Conclusions: Our results indicated that both neurons and astrocytes are potential sources of pro-inflammatory cytokines in TBEV-infected brain tissue. Infected/activated astrocytes produce cytokines/chemokines that stimulate the innate neuronal immune response, limiting virus replication, and increasing survival of infected neurons.
Keywords: Luminex; Neuroinflammation; Tick-borne encephalitis; Tick-borne encephalitis virus.