Single-Cell RNA Sequencing Reveals the Diversity of the Immunological Landscape following Central Nervous System Infection by a Murine Coronavirus


Intracranial (i.c.) infection of susceptible C57BL/6 mice with the neurotropic JHM strain of mouse hepatitis virus (JHMV) (a member of the Coronaviridae family) results in acute encephalomyelitis and viral persistence associated with an immune-mediated demyelinating disease. The present study was undertaken to better understand the molecular pathways evoked during innate and adaptive immune responses as well as the chronic demyelinating stage of disease in response to JHMV infection of the central nervous system (CNS). Using single-cell RNA sequencing analysis (scRNAseq) on flow-sorted CD45-positive (CD45+) cells enriched from brains and spinal cords of experimental mice, we demonstrate the heterogeneity of the immune response as determined by the presence of unique molecular signatures and pathways involved in effective antiviral host defense. Furthermore, we identify potential genes involved in contributing to demyelination as well as remyelination being expressed by both microglia and macrophages. Collectively, these findings emphasize the diversity of the immune responses and molecular networks at defined stages following viral infection of the CNS.IMPORTANCE: Understanding the immunological mechanisms contributing to both host defense and disease following viral infection of the CNS is of critical importance given the increasing number of viruses that are capable of infecting and replicating within the nervous system. With this in mind, the present study was undertaken to evaluate the molecular signatures of immune cells within the CNS at defined times following infection with a neuroadapted murine coronavirus using scRNAseq. This approach has revealed that the immunological landscape is diverse, with numerous immune cell subsets expressing distinct mRNA expression profiles that are, in part, dictated by the stage of infection. In addition, these findings reveal new insight into cellular pathways contributing to control of viral replication as well as to neurologic disease.

J Virol, 94(24):e01295-20