Human pegivirus (HPgV) infects peripheral leukocytes but was recently shown to be a neurotropic virus associated with leukoencephalitis in humans. In the present study, we investigated the neural cell tropism of HPgV as well as its effects on host immune responses. HPgV wild type (WT) and a mutant virus with a deletion in the HPgV NS2 gene (ΔNS2) were able to productively infect human astrocytes and microglia but not neurons or an oligodendrocyte-derived cell line. Of note, the ΔNS2 virus replicated better than WT pegivirus in astrocytes, with both viruses being able to subsequently infect and spread in fresh human astrocyte cultures. Infection of human glia by HPgV WT and ΔNS2 viruses resulted in suppression of peroxisome-associated genes, including PEX11B, ABCD1, PEX7, ABCD3, PEX3, and PEX5L, during peak viral production, which was accompanied by reduced expression of IFNB, IRF3, IRF1, and MAVS, particularly in ΔNS2-infected cells. These data were consistent with analyses of brain tissue from patients infected with HPgV in which we observed suppression of peroxisome and type I interferon gene transcripts, including PEX11B, ABCD3, IRF1, and IRF3, with concurrent loss of PMP70 immunoreactivity in glia. Our data indicate that human astrocytes and microglia are permissive to HPgV infection, resulting in peroxisome injury and suppressed antiviral signaling that is influenced by viral diversity. IMPORTANCE Human pegiviruses are detected in 1 to 5% of the general population, principally infecting leukocytes, although their effects on human health remain uncertain. Here, we show that human pegivirus infects specific neural cell types in culture and human brain and, like other neurotropic flaviviruses, causes suppression of peroxisome and antiviral signaling pathways, which could favor ongoing viral infection and perhaps confer susceptibility to the development of neurological disease.
Keywords: glia; human pegivirus; peroxisome; type I interferon.