Herpes simplex virus infection induces necroptosis of neurons and astrocytes in human fetal organotypic brain slice cultures

Ahmad S. Rashidi, Diana N. Tran, Caithlin R. Peelen, Michiel van Gent, Werner J.D. Ouwendijk, Georges M.G.M. Verjans*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Herpes simplex virus (HSV) encephalitis (HSE) is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease, affecting both adults and newborns. Progress in understanding the virus and host factors involved in neonatal HSE has been hampered by the limitations of current brain models that do not fully recapitulate the tissue structure and cell composition of the developing human brain in health and disease. Here, we developed a human fetal organotypic brain slice culture (hfOBSC) model and determined its value in mimicking the HSE neuropathology in vitro. Methods: Cell viability and tissues integrity were determined by lactate dehydrogenase release in supernatant and immunohistological (IHC) analyses. Brain slices were infected with green fluorescent protein (GFP-) expressing HSV-1 and HSV-2. Virus replication and spread were determined by confocal microscopy, PCR and virus culture. Expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines were detected by PCR. Cell tropism and HSV-induced neuropathology were determined by IHC analysis. Finally, the in situ data of HSV-infected hfOBSC were compared to the neuropathology detected in human HSE brain sections. Results: Slicing and serum-free culture conditions were optimized to maintain the viability and tissue architecture of ex vivo human fetal brain slices for at least 14 days at 37 °C in a CO2 incubator. The hfOBSC supported productive HSV-1 and HSV-2 infection, involving predominantly infection of neurons and astrocytes, leading to expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Both viruses induced programmed cell death—especially necroptosis—in infected brain slices at later time points after infection. The virus spread, cell tropism and role of programmed cell death in HSV-induced cell death resembled the neuropathology of HSE. Conclusions: We developed a novel human brain culture model in which the viability of the major brain-resident cells—including neurons, microglia, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes—and the tissue architecture is maintained for at least 2 weeks in vitro under serum-free culture conditions. The close resemblance of cell tropism, spread and neurovirulence of HSV-1 and HSV-2 in the hfOBSC model with the neuropathological features of human HSE cases underscores its potential to detail the pathophysiology of other neurotropic viruses and as preclinical model to test novel therapeutic interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024

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