Colorado tick fever virus induces apoptosis in human endothelial cells to facilitate viral replication

Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2021 Sep;12(5):101775. doi: 10.1016/j.ttbdis.2021.101775. Epub 2021 Jun 17.


Colorado tick fever virus (CTFV) belongs to the genus Coltivirus of the Reoviridae family, and it is the causative agent of Colorado tick fever. Symptoms of the infection are characterized by sudden biphasic fever, headache, and petechial rash, while severe forms of the disease can include meningoencephalitis, hemorrhagic fever, and death in children. However, the mechanisms underlying CTFV induced pathology and severe complications remain unknown. As CTFV is spread by tick bites and disseminates systemically via hematogenous routes, we performed in vitro analysis examining the interactions between endothelial cells (ECs) and CTFV. Our findings indicate that dermal microvascular ECs, HMEC-1, are susceptible and permissive to CTFV infection. To investigate the role of CTFV infection on endothelial barrier function, we assessed transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) by xCELLigence and observed a dose-dependent decrease in cell index, indicating increased vascular permeability starting at approximately hour 18 (MOI=1) and hour 26 (MOI=0.1). Since CTFV induced cytopathic effect and increased vascular permeability in HMEC-1 cells, we hypothesized that CTFV causes apoptotic cell death. Our results showed that HMEC-1 cells infected with CTFV at 48 h caused a significant increase in Annexin V staining with reduced viability compared to uninfected cells suggesting CTFV induces apoptotic cell death in human ECs. Electron microscopy also was consistent with apoptotic features, including chromatin condensation and cell blebbing. Furthermore, CTFV induced caspase-3/7 activation at 24 and 48 h post-infection (hpi). The inhibition of caspase activity using Z-VAD-FMK reduced CTFV induced cell death and significantly reduced viral titer. These results indicated that CTFV can infect ECs, exerting direct adverse effects, leading to vascular permeability and cell death. Overall, our data suggest that caspase-mediated apoptosis is a critical mechanism by which CTFV induces disease in the host and enhances viral replication. Future studies will examine the viral and cellular determinants involved in CTFV induced apoptosis in human ECs.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Colorado tick fever virus; Emerging infectious disease, endothelium; Human pathogen; Tick-borne.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Cell Line
  • Colorado tick fever virus / physiology*
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology
  • Endothelial Cells / virology
  • Humans
  • Virus Replication*