Zika virus-induced TNF-α signaling dysregulates expression of neurologic genes associated with psychiatric disorders

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Zika virus (ZIKV) is an emerging flavivirus of global concern. ZIKV infection of the central nervous system has been linked to a variety of clinical syndromes, including microcephaly in fetuses and rare but serious neurologic disease in adults. However, the potential for ZIKV to influence brain physiology and host behavior following recovery from apparently mild or subclinical infection is less well understood. Furthermore, though deficits in cognitive function are well-documented following recovery from neuroinvasive viral infection, the potential impact of ZIKV on other host behavioral domains has not been thoroughly explored. In our study, we performed transcriptomic profiling of primary neuron cultures following ZIKV infection, which revealed altered expression of key genes associated with major psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Gene ontology enrichment analysis also revealed significant changes in gene expression associated with fundamental neurobiological processes, including neuronal development, neurotransmission, and others. These alterations to neurologic gene expression were also observed in the brain in vivo using an immunocompetent mouse model of ZIKV infection. Mechanistic studies identified TNF-α signaling via TNFR1 as a major regulatory mechanism controlling ZIKV-induced changes to neurologic gene expression. Our studies reveal that cell-intrinsic innate immune responses to ZIKV infection profoundly shape neuronal transcriptional profiles, highlighting the need to further explore associations between ZIKV infection and disordered host behavioral states.

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