Zika Virus Infection Alters Gene Expression and Poly-Adenylation Patterns in Placental Cells

Stephanea L. Sotcheff, John Yun Chung Chen, Nathan Elrod, Jun Cao, Elizabeth Jaworski, Mugé N. Kuyumcu-Martinez, Pei Yong Shi, Andrew L. Routh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Flaviviruses are small RNA viruses that are mainly transmitted via arthropod vectors and are found in tropic and sub-tropical regions. Most infections are asymptomatic (90–95%), but symptoms can be as severe as hemorrhagic fever and encephalitis. One recently emerged flavivirus is Zika virus (ZIKV), which was originally isolated from rhesus monkeys in Uganda roughly 70 years ago but has recently spread east, reaching S. America in 2015–2016. This outbreak was associated with the development of Guillain–Barré syndrome in adults and microcephaly in infants born to expectant mothers infected early in pregnancy. ZIKV must traverse the placenta to impact the development of the fetus, but the mechanisms responsible are unknown. While flaviviruses are known to disrupt splicing patterns in host cells, little is known about how flaviviruses such as ZIKV impact the alternative polyadenylation (APA) of host transcripts. This is important as APA is well-established as a mechanism in the regulation of mRNA metabolism and translation. Thus, we sought to characterize transcriptomic changes including APA in human placental (JEG3) cells in response to ZIKV infection using Poly(A)-ClickSeq (PAC-Seq). We used our differential Poly(A)-cluster (DPAC) analysis pipeline to characterize changes in differential gene expression, alternative poly-adenylation (APA) and the use of alternative terminal exons. We identified 98 upregulated genes and 28 downregulated genes. Pathway enrichment analysis indicated that many RNA processing and immune pathways were upregulated in ZIKV-infected JEG3 cells. We also updated DPAC to provide additional metrics of APA including the percentage-distal usage index (PDUI), which revealed that APA was extensive and the 3′ UTRs of 229 genes were lengthened while 269 were shortened. We further found that there were 214 upregulated and 59 downregulated poly(A)-clusters (PACs). We extracted the nucleotide sequences surrounding these PACs and found that the canonical signals for poly-adenylation (binding site for poly-A binding protein (PABP) upstream and a GU-rich region down-stream of the PAC) were only enriched in the downregulated PACs. These results indicate that ZIKV infection makes JEG3 cells more permissive to non-canonical poly-adenylation signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number936
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • Poly(A)-ClickSeq
  • alternative polyadenylation
  • microcephaly
  • placenta
  • zika virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Molecular Biology
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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