Innate Immunity of Rift Valley Fever Virus

Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) is a Category A arbovirus pathogen that causes human hemorrhagic fever, retinitis and encephalitis in Africa and the Middle East.  The virus has high potential for deliberate release and bioterrorism since it may be aerosolized and transmitted by inhalation or contact with mucosal tissue as well as by blood-feeding mosquitoes.  Given the lack of a small animal model that faithfully recapitulates the diverse outcomes of human infection and the fact that RVF epidemics occur in remote areas, little is known about how innate immune events contribute to disease pathogenesis and protective adaptive immunity aside from limited observations that delayed type I IFN responses are associated with severe illness and mortality.  These gaps in knowledge will be addressed by a combined study examining Kenyan residents where RVF epidemics occur repeatedly (most recently 2006-2007) with in vitro models of infection and disease pathogenesis.

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We have observed that RVFV transmission to humans in this area is much greater than previously suspected, both during epidemic and inter-epidemic periods, with up to 25% lifetime risk of infection.  In Specific Aim 1 we will define the risk factors for and spectrum of chronic disease phenotypes (primarily retinitis) in persons infected during earlier, repeated RVF epidemics and pre-position the necessary systems to test panels of patients with and without RVF-associated encephalitis and/or hemorrhagic fever during the next epidemic.  In Specific Aim 2 we will use in vitro models to define the innate immune pathways, e.g. TLR and RNA helicases, affected by attenuated RVFV and to examine the relationship between serologic markers of prior infection and RVFV-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell memory.  In Specific Aim 3 we will determine how innate immune genetic polymorphisms account for heterogeneity in retinitis outcomes and adaptive immunity. Overall this project will provide novel information regarding how innate and adaptive immunity to RVFV determines infection and disease outcomes in humans at high-risk for exposure to this Category A pathogen.

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Funded by Midwest Regional Center of Excellence Program Project Award, NIH. U54AI057160. Innate Immunity of Rift Valley Fever Virus.