Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) causes disease in livestock and humans. It can be transmitted by mosquitoes, inhalation or physical contact with the body fluids of infected animals. Severe clinical cases are characterized by acute hepatitis with hemorrhage, meningoencephalitis and/or retinitis. The dynamics of RVFV infection and the cell types infected in vivo are poorly understood.
RVFV strains expressing humanized Renilla luciferase (hRLuc) or green fluorescent protein (GFP) were generated and inoculated to susceptible Ifnar1-deficient mice. We investigated the tissue tropism in these mice and the nature of the target cells in vivo using whole-organ imaging and flow cytometry. After intraperitoneal inoculation, hRLuc signal was observed primarily in the thymus, spleen and liver. Macrophages infiltrating various tissues, in particular the adipose tissue surrounding the pancreas also expressed the virus. The liver rapidly turned into the major luminescent organ and the mice succumbed to severe hepatitis. The brain remained weakly luminescent throughout infection. FACS analysis in RVFV-GFP-infected mice showed that the macrophages, dendritic cells and granulocytes were main target cells for RVFV. The crucial role of cells of the monocyte/macrophage/dendritic lineage during RVFV infection was confirmed by the slower viral dissemination, decrease in RVFV titers in blood, and prolonged survival of macrophage- and dendritic cell-depleted mice following treatment with clodronate liposomes. Upon dermal and nasal inoculations, the viral dissemination was primarily observed in the lymph node draining the injected ear and in the lungs respectively, with a significant increase in survival time.
Rift Valley fever, caused by a member of the Bunyaviridae family, has spread during recent years to most sub-Saharan African countries, in Egypt and in the Arabian peninsula. The virus can be transmitted by insect vectors or by direct contacts with infectious tissues. The analysis of virus replication and dissemination in laboratory animals has been hampered by the need to euthanize sufficient numbers of animals and to assay appropriate organs at various time points after infection to evaluate the viral replication. By following the bioluminescence and fluorescence of Rift Valley fever viruses expressing light reporters, we were able to track the real-time dissemination of the viruses in live immunodeficient mice. We showed that the first infected organs were the thymus, spleen and liver, but the liver rapidly became the main location of viral replication. Phagocytes also appeared as important targets, and their systemic depletion by use of clodronate liposomes decreased the number of viruses in the blood, delayed the viral dissemination and prolonged the survival of the infected mice.