Zika virus infection in chemosensory cells

J Neurovirol. 2020 Jun;26(3):371-381. doi: 10.1007/s13365-020-00835-2. Epub 2020 Mar 6.


Zika virus (ZIKV) is an emerging virus belonging to the genus Flavivirus. ZIKV infection is a significant health concern, with increasing numbers of reports of microcephaly cases in fetuses and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in adults. Interestingly, chemosensory disturbances are also reported as one of the manifestations of GBS. ZIKV infects several human tissues and cell types in vitro and in vivo. However, there is no study demonstrating ZIKV infection and replication in chemosensory cells, including olfactory and taste cells. Taste papilla and olfactory cells are chemosensory receptor cells with unique histological, molecular, and physiological characteristics. Here we examined ZIKV infection (PRVABC59) in cultured human olfactory epithelial cells (hOECs) and fungiform taste papilla (HBO) cells in vitro, as well as in vivo mouse taste and olfactory epithelial and olfactory bulb tissues. Interestingly, while HBO cells showed resistance to ZIKV replication, hOECs were highly susceptible for ZIKV infection and replication. Further, we demonstrated the presence of ZIKV particles and expression of viral proteins in olfactory epithelium, as well as in olfactory bulb, but not in taste papillae, of immunocompromised mice (ifnar/-) infected with the PRVABC59 strain of ZIKV. These observations suggest that chemosensory cells in the olfactory neuroepithelium and olfactory bulb may be important tissues for ZIKV replication and dissemination.

Keywords: Central nervous system; Chemosensory; Infection; Olfactory cells; Taste cells; Zika virus (ZIKV).

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / immunology
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / pathology
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / virology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Organ Specificity
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta / deficiency
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta / genetics
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta / immunology*
  • Smell / physiology
  • Taste / physiology
  • Virus Replication / physiology*
  • Zika Virus / growth & development
  • Zika Virus / immunology
  • Zika Virus / pathogenicity*
  • Zika Virus Infection / immunology
  • Zika Virus Infection / pathology
  • Zika Virus Infection / virology*


  • Ifnar1 protein, mouse
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta