Zika virus infects human Sertoli cells and modulates the integrity of the in vitro blood-testis barrier model

David N. Siemann, Daniel P. Strange, Payal N. Maharaj, Pei Yong Shi, Saguna Verma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Confirmed reports of Zika virus (ZIKV) in human seminal fluid for months after the clearance of viremia suggest the ability of ZIKV to establish persistent infection in the seminiferous tubules, an immune-privileged site in the testis protected by the blood-testis barrier, also called the Sertoli cell (SC) barrier (SCB). However, cellular targets of ZIKV in human testis and mechanisms by which the virus enters seminiferous tubules remain unclear. We demonstrate that primary human SCs were highly susceptible to ZIKV compared to the closely related dengue virus and induced the expression of alpha interferon (IFN-α), key cytokines, and cell adhesion molecules (vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 [VCAM-1] and intracellular adhesion molecule 1 [ICAM-1]). Furthermore, using an in vitro SCB model, we show that ZIKV was released on the adluminal side of the SCB model with a higher efficiency than in the blood-brain barrier model. ZIKV-infected SCs exhibited enhanced adhesion of leukocytes that correlated with decreases in SCB integrity. ZIKV infection did not affect the expression of tight and adherens junction proteins such as ZO-1, claudin, and JAM-A; however, exposure of SCs to inflammatory mediators derived from ZIKV-infected macrophages led to the degradation of the ZO-1 protein, which correlated with increased SCB permeability. Taken together, our data suggest that infection of SCs may be one of the crucial steps by which ZIKV gains access to the site of spermatozoon development and identify SCs as a therapeutic target to clear testicular infections. The SCB model opens up opportunities to assess interactions of SCs with other testicular cells and to test the ability of anti-ZIKV drugs to cross the barrier.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00623-17
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Blood-testis barrier
  • Cell adhesion molecules
  • Human Sertoli cells
  • In vitro Sertoli cell barrier
  • Innate immune response
  • Macrophages
  • Sexual transmission
  • Tight junction proteins
  • Zika virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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