Zika virus (ZIKV) is an important pathogen that causes not only neurologic, but also ocular, abnormalities. Thus, it is imperative that models to study ZIKV pathogenesis in the eye are developed to identify potential targets for interventions. Here, we studied ZIKV interactions with human retinal cells and evaluated ZIKV’s pathobiology in mouse eyes. We showed that cells lining the blood-retinal barrier (BRB), the retinal endothelium, and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) were highly permissive and susceptible to ZIKV-induced cell death. Direct inoculation of ZIKV in eyes of adult C57BL/6 and IFN-stimulated gene 15 (ISG15) KO mice caused chorioretinal atrophy with RPE mottling, a common ocular manifestation of congenital ZIKV infection in humans. This response was associated with induced expression of multiple inflammatory and antiviral (IFNs) response genes in the infected mouse retina. Interestingly, ISG15 KO eyes exhibited severe chorioretinitis, which coincided with increased retinal cell death and higher ZIKV replication. Collectively, our study provides the first evidence to our knowledge that ZIKV causes retinal lesions and infects the cells lining the BRB and that ISG15 plays a role in retinal innate defense against ZIKV infection. Our mouse model can be used to study mechanisms underlying ZIKV-induced chorioretinitis and to gauge ocular antiviral therapies.
Pawan Kumar Singh, John-Michael Guest, Mamta Kanwar, Joseph Boss, Nan Gao, Mark S. Juzych, Gary W. Abrams, Fu-Shin Yu, Ashok Kumar