Differential pathogenesis of Usutu virus isolates in mice


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Usutu virus (USUV; Flavivirus), a close phylogenetic and ecological relative of West Nile virus, is a zoonotic virus that can cause neuroinvasive disease in humans. USUV is maintained in an enzootic cycle between Culex mosquitoes and birds. Since the first isolation in 1959 in South Africa, USUV has spread throughout Africa and Europe. Reported human cases have increased over the last few decades, primarily in Europe, with symptoms ranging from mild febrile illness to severe neurological effects. In this study, we investigated whether USUV has become more pathogenic during emergence in Europe. Interferon α/β receptor knockout (Ifnar1-/-) mice were inoculated with recent USUV isolates from Africa and Europe, as well as the historic 1959 South African strain. The three tested African strains and one European strain from Spain caused 100% mortality in inoculated mice, with similar survival times and histopathology in tissues. Unexpectedly, a European strain from the Netherlands caused only 12% mortality and significantly less histopathology in tissues from mice compared to mice inoculated with the other strains. Viremia was highest in mice inoculated with the recent African strains and lowest in mice inoculated with the Netherlands strain. Based on phylogenetics, the USUV isolates from Spain and the Netherlands were derived from separate introductions into Europe, suggesting that disease outcomes may differ for USUV strains circulating in Europe. These results also suggest that while more human USUV disease cases have been reported in Europe recently, circulating African USUV strains are still a potential major health concern.




Kuchinsky SC, Hawks SA, Mossel EC, Coutermarsh-Ott S, Duggal NK (2020) Differential pathogenesis of Usutu virus isolates in mice. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 14(10): e0008765. https://doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pntd.0008765