Lab-Attenuated Rabies Virus Facilitates Opening of the Blood-Brain Barrier by Inducing Matrix Metallopeptidase 8

J Virol. 2022 Sep 14;96(17):e0105022. doi: 10.1128/jvi.01050-22. Epub 2022 Aug 25.


Infection with laboratory-attenuated rabies virus (RABV), but not wild-type (wt) RABV, can enhance the permeability of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which is considered a key determinant for RABV pathogenicity. A previous study showed that the enhancement of BBB permeability is directly due not to RABV infection but to virus-induced inflammatory molecules. In this study, the effect of the matrix metallopeptidase (MMP) family on the permeability of the BBB during RABV infection was evaluated. We found that the expression level of MMP8 was upregulated in mice infected with lab-attenuated RABV but not with wt RABV. Lab-attenuated RABV rather than wt RABV activates inflammatory signaling pathways mediated by the nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways. Activated NF-κB (p65) and AP-1 (c-Fos) bind to the MMP8 promoter, resulting in upregulation of its transcription. Analysis of mouse brains infected with the recombinant RABV expressing MMP8 indicated that MMP8 enhanced BBB permeability, leading to infiltration of inflammatory cells into the central nervous system (CNS). In brain-derived endothelial cells, treatment with MMP8 recombinant protein caused the degradation of tight junction (TJ) proteins, and the application of an MMP8 inhibitor inhibited the degradation of TJ proteins after RABV infection. Furthermore, an in vivo experiment using an MMP8 inhibitor during RABV infection demonstrated that BBB opening was diminished. In summary, our data suggest that the infection of lab-attenuated RABV enhances the BBB opening by upregulating MMP8. IMPORTANCE The ability to change BBB permeability was associated with the pathogenicity of RABV. BBB permeability was enhanced by infection with lab-attenuated RABV instead of wt RABV, allowing immune cells to infiltrate into the CNS. We found that MMP8 plays an important role in enhancing BBB permeability by degradation of TJ proteins during RABV infection. Using an MMP8 selective inhibitor restores the reduction of TJ proteins. We reveal that MMP8 is upregulated via the MAPK and NF-κB inflammatory pathways, activated by lab-attenuated RABV infection but not wt RABV. Our findings suggest that MMP8 has a critical role in modulating the opening of the BBB during RABV infection, which provides fresh insight into developing effective therapeutics for rabies and infection with other neurotropic viruses.

Keywords: blood-brain barrier; inflammation; matrix metallopeptidase 8; permeability change; rabies virus.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Brain
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 8 / genetics
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 8 / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Rabies / virology*
  • Rabies virus*


  • NF-kappa B
  • MMP8 protein, mouse
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 8