An improved animal model for herpesvirus encephalitis in humans
Herpesviral encephalitis caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1) is one of the most devastating diseases in humans. Patients present with fever, mental status changes or seizures and when untreated, sequelae can be fatal. Herpes Simplex Encephalitis (HSE) is characterized by mainly unilateral necrotizing inflammation effacing the frontal and mesiotemporal lobes with rare involvement of the brainstem. HSV-1 is hypothesized to invade the CNS via the trigeminal or olfactory nerve, but viral tropism and the exact route of infection remain unclear. Several mouse models for HSE have been developed, but they mimic natural infection only inadequately. The porcine alphaherpesvirus Pseudorabies virus (PrV) is closely related to HSV-1 and Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV). While pigs can control productive infection, it is lethal in other susceptible animals associated with severe pruritus leading to automutilation. Here, we describe the first mutant PrV establishing productive infection in mice that the animals are able to control. After intranasal inoculation with a PrV mutant lacking tegument protein pUL21 and pUS3 kinase activity (PrV-ΔUL21/US3Δkin), nearly all mice survived despite extensive infection of the central nervous system. Neuroinvasion mainly occurred along the trigeminal pathway. Whereas trigeminal first and second order neurons and autonomic ganglia were positive early after intranasal infection, PrV-specific antigen was mainly detectable in the frontal, mesiotemporal and parietal lobes at later times, accompanied by a long lasting lymphohistiocytic meningoencephalitis. Despite this extensive infection, mice showed only mild to moderate clinical signs, developed alopecic skin lesions, or remained asymptomatic. Interestingly, most mice exhibited abnormalities in behavior and activity levels including slow movements, akinesia and stargazing. In summary, clinical signs, distribution of viral antigen and inflammatory pattern show striking analogies to human encephalitis caused by HSV-1 or VZV not observed in other animal models of disease.