Prior heterologous flavivirus exposure results in reduced pathogenesis in a mouse model of zika virus infection

Mariah Hassert, Tara L. Steffen, Stephen Scroggins, Abigail K. Coleman, Enbal Shacham, James D. Brien, Amelia K. Pinto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The 2015/2016 Zika virus epidemic in South and Central America left the scientific community urgently trying to understand the factors that contribute to Zika virus pathogenesis. Because multiple other flaviviruses are endemic in areas where Zika virus emerged, it is hypothesized that a key to understanding Zika virus disease severity is to study Zika virus infection in the context of prior flavivirus exposure. Human and animal studies have highlighted the idea that having been previously exposed to a different flavivirus may modulate the immune response to Zika virus. However, it is still unclear how prior flavivirus exposure impacts Zika viral burden and disease. In this murine study, we longitudinally examine multiple factors involved in Zika disease, linking viral burden with increased neurological disease severity, weight loss, and inflammation. We show that prior heterologous flavivirus exposure with dengue virus type 2 or 3 or the vaccine strain of yellow fever provides protection from mortality in a lethal Zika virus challenge. However, reduction in viral burden and Zika disease varies depending on the infecting primary flavivirus; with primary Zika virus infection being most protective from Zika virus challenge, followed by dengue virus 2, with yellow fever and dengue virus 3 protecting against mortality but showing more severe disease. This study demonstrates the variation in protective effects of prior flavivirus exposure on Zika virus pathogenesis and identifies distinct relationships between primary flavivirus infection and the potential for Zika virus disease. IMPORTANCE The emergence and reemergence of various vector-borne diseases in recent years highlights the need to understand the mechanisms of protection for each pathogen. In this study, we investigated the impact of prior exposure to Zika virus, dengue virus serotypes 2 or 3, or the vaccine strain of yellow fever on pathogenesis and disease outcomes in a mouse model of Zika virus infection. We found that prior exposure to a heterologous flavivirus was protective from mortality, and to varying degrees, prior flavivirus exposure was protective against neurological disease, weight loss, and severe viral burden during a lethal Zika challenge. Using a longitudinal and cross-sectional study design, we were able to link multiple disease parameters, including viral burden, with neurological disease severity, weight loss, and inflammatory response in the context of flavivirus infection. This study demonstrates a measurable but varied impact of prior flavivirus exposure in modulating flavivirus pathophysiology. Given the cyclic nature of most flavivirus outbreaks, this work will contribute to the forecasting of disease severity for future outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00573
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 Hassert et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.


  • Cross-protection
  • Dengue virus
  • Flavivirus
  • Heterologous virus
  • Vaccination
  • Yellow fever
  • Zika virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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