Zika virus induces neuronal and vascular degeneration in developing mouse retina

Yi Li, Shuizhen Shi, Fan Xia, Chao Shan, Yonju Ha, Jing Zou, Awadalkareem Adam, Ming Zhang, Tian Wang, Hua Liu, Pei Yong Shi, Wenbo Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Zika virus (ZIKV), a mosquito-borne flavivirus, can cause severe eye disease and even blindness in newborns. However, ZIKV-induced retinal lesions have not been studied in a comprehensive way, mechanisms of ZIKV-induced retinal abnormalities are unknown, and no therapeutic intervention is available to treat or minimize the degree of vision loss in patients. Here, we developed a novel mouse model of ZIKV infection to evaluate its impact on retinal structure. ZIKV (20 plaque-forming units) was inoculated into neonatal wild type C57BL/6J mice at postnatal day (P) 0 subcutaneously. Retinas of infected mice and age-matched controls were collected at various ages, and retinal structural alterations were analyzed. We found that ZIKV induced progressive neuronal and vascular damage and retinal inflammation starting from P8. ZIKV-infected retina exhibited dramatically decreased thickness with loss of neurons, initial neovascular tufts followed by vessel dilation and degeneration, increased microglia and leukocyte recruitment and activation, degeneration of astrocyte network and gliosis. The above changes may involve inflammation and endoplasmic reticulum stress-mediated cell apoptosis and necroptosis. Moreover, we evaluated the efficacy of preclinical drugs and the safety of ZIKV vaccine candidate in this mouse model. We found that ZIKV-induced retinal abnormalities could be blocked by a selective flavivirus inhibitor NITD008 and a live-attenuated ZIKV vaccine candidate could potentially induce retinal abnormalities. Overall, we established a novel mouse model and provide a direct causative link between ZIKV and retinal lesion in vivo, which warrants further investigation of the underlying mechanisms of ZIKV-induced retinopathy and the development of effective therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number97
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Drug efficacy
  • Endoplasmic reticulum stress
  • Inflammation
  • Neuronal degeneration
  • Retina
  • Vaccine safety
  • Vascular degeneration
  • Zika virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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