Dual Role of Toll-Like Receptor 7 in the Pathogenesis of Rabies Virus in a Mouse Model

J Virol. 2020 Apr 16;94(9):e00111-20. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00111-20. Print 2020 Apr 16.


Rabies, caused by rabies virus (RABV), is a fatal encephalitis in humans and other mammals, which continues to present a public health threat in most parts of the world. Our previous study demonstrated that Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) is essential in the induction of anti-RABV antibodies via the facilitation of germinal center formation. In the present study, we investigated the role of TLR7 in the pathogenicity of RABV in a mouse model. Using isolated plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs), we demonstrated that TLR7 is an innate recognition receptor for RABV. When RABV invaded from the periphery, TLR7 detected viral single-stranded RNA and triggered immune responses that limited the virus's entry into the central nervous system (CNS). When RABV had invaded the CNS, its detection by TLR7 led to the production of cytokines and chemokines and an increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. Consequently, peripheral immune cells, including pDCs, macrophages, neutrophils, and B cells infiltrated the CNS. While this immune response, triggered by TLR7, helped to clear viruses, it also increased neuroinflammation and caused immunopathology in the mouse brain. Our results demonstrate that TLR7 is an innate recognition receptor for RABV, which restricts RABV invasion into the CNS in the early stage of viral infection but also contributes to immunopathology by inducing neuroinflammation.IMPORTANCE Developing targeted treatment for RABV requires understanding the innate immune response to the virus because early virus clearance is essential for preventing the fatality when the infection has progressed to the CNS. Previous studies have revealed that TLR7 is involved in the immune response to RABV. Here, we establish that TLR7 recognizes RABV and facilitates the production of some interferon-stimulated genes. We also demonstrated that when RABV invades into the CNS, TLR7 enhances the production of inflammatory cytokines which contribute to immunopathology in the mouse brain. Taken together, our findings suggest that treatments for RABV must consider the balance between the beneficial and harmful effects of TLR7-triggered immune responses.

Keywords: TLR7; neuroinflammation; rabies virus; recognition receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Brain / virology
  • Chemokines / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Interferons
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Permeability / drug effects
  • Rabies / immunology
  • Rabies / pathology*
  • Rabies virus / immunology
  • Rabies virus / metabolism*
  • Rabies virus / pathogenicity
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7 / immunology
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7 / metabolism*


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Chemokines
  • Cytokines
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7
  • Interferons