Characterization of experimental Shuni virus infection in the mouse

Shuni virus (SHUV), an orthobunyavirus of the Simbu serogroup, was initially isolated in Nigeria in the 1960s, further detected in other African countries and in the Middle East, and is now endemic in Israel. Transmitted by blood-sucking insects, SHUV infection is associated with neurological disease in cattle and horses, and with abortion, stillbirth, or the birth of malformed offspring in ruminants. Surveillance studies also indicated a zoonotic potential. This study aimed to test the susceptibility of the well-characterized interferon (IFN)-α/β receptor knock-out mouse model (Ifnar−/−), to identify target cells, and to describe the neuropathological features. Ifnar−/−mice were subcutaneously infected with two different SHUV strains, including a strain isolated from the brain of a heifer showing neurological signs. The second strain represented a natural deletion mutant exhibiting a loss of function of the S-segment–encoded nonstructural protein NSs, which counteracts the host’s IFN response. Here it is shown that Ifnar−/−mice are susceptible to both SHUV strains and can develop fatal disease. Histological examination confirmed meningoencephalomyelitis in mice as described in cattle with natural and experimental infections. RNA in situ hybridization was applied using RNA Scope™ for SHUV detection. Target cells identified included neurons and astrocytes, as well as macrophages in the spleen and gut-associated lymphoid tissue. Thus, this mouse model is particularly beneficial for the evaluation of virulence determinants in the pathogenesis of SHUV infection in animals.

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