Comparative Infections of Zika, Dengue, and Yellow Fever Viruses in Human Cytotrophoblast-Derived Cells Suggest a Gating Role for the Cytotrophoblast in Zika Virus Placental Invasion

Microbiol Spectr. 2023 May 25;e0063023. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.00630-23. Online ahead of print.


The Zika virus (ZIKV) is teratogenic and considered a TORCH pathogen (toxoplasmosis [Toxoplasma gondii], rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus [HSV], and other microorganisms capable of crossing the blood-placenta barrier). In contrast, the related flavivirus dengue virus (DENV) and the attenuated yellow fever virus vaccine strain (YFV-17D) are not. Understanding the mechanisms used by ZIKV to cross the placenta is necessary. In this work, parallel infections with ZIKV of African and Asian lineages, DENV, and YFV-17D were compared for kinetics and growth efficiency, activation of mTOR pathways, and cytokine secretion profile using cytotrophoblast-derived HTR8 cells and monocytic U937 cells differentiated to M2 macrophages. In HTR8 cells, ZIKV replication, especially the African strain, was significantly more efficient and faster than DENV or YFV-17D. In macrophages, ZIKV replication was also more efficient, although differences between strains were reduced. Greater activation of the mTORC1 and mTORC2 pathways in HTR8 cells infected with ZIKV than with DENV or YFV-17D was observed. HTR8 cells treated with mTOR inhibitors showed a 20-fold reduction in ZIKV yield, versus 5- and 3.5-fold reductions for DENV and YFV-17D, respectively. Finally, infection with ZIKV, but not DENV or YFV-17D, efficiently inhibited the interferon (IFN) and chemoattractant responses in both cell lines. These results suggest a gating role for the cytotrophoblast cells in favoring entry of ZIKV, but not DENV and YFV-17D, into the placental stroma. IMPORTANCE Zika virus acquisition during pregnancy is associated with severe fetal damage. The Zika virus is related to dengue virus and yellow fever virus, yet fetal damage has not been related to dengue or inadvertent vaccination for yellow fever during pregnancy. Mechanisms used by the Zika virus to cross the placenta need to be deciphered. By comparing parallel infections of Zika virus strains belonging to the African and Asian lineages, dengue virus, and the yellow fever vaccine virus strain YFV-17D in placenta-derived cytotrophoblast cells and differentiated macrophages, evidence was found that Zika virus infections, especially by the African strains, were more efficient in cytotrophoblast cells than dengue virus or yellow fever vaccine virus strain infections. Meanwhile, no significant differences were observed in macrophages. Robust activation of the mTOR signaling pathways and inhibition of the IFN and chemoattractant response appear to be related to the better growth capacity of the Zika viruses in the cytotrophoblast-derived cells.

Keywords: HTR8 cells; U937 cells; Zika virus; cytotrophoblast; dengue virus; yellow fever virus vaccine.