Neonatal mice were infected with virus derived from a molecular clone of a laboratory strain of Sindbis virus, TRSB. The resulting acute fatal infection was typified by few if any of the classic hallmarks of encephalitis, very high levels of interferon-alpha/beta (IFNαβ), and lesions in the thymus and hematopoietic tissues usually associated with a severe stress response. Infection with an attenuated mutant of TRSB, which harbors a single amino acid change in the E2 surface glycoprotein (TRSBr114), was characterized by encephalitis, reduced mortality, low levels of IFNαβ, and no thymic pathology (J. Trgovcich, J.F. Aronson, and R.E. Johnston, 1996, Virology 224, 73-83). Here we report that infection of neonatal mice with TRSB, but not TRSBr114, resulted in induction of high levels of tumor necrosis factor-α as well as high and sustained levels of adrenalcorticotropin-releasing hormone and corticosterone. This syndrome of potentially toxic cytokine and stress hormone induction correlates with lethal Sindbis virus infection and constitutes a previously unrecognized aspect of Sindbis virus pathogenesis in mice.
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