Journal of virology

Interferon-induced protein Ifit2 protects mice from infection of the peripheral nervous system by vesicular stomatitis virus.

PMID 24991014


The interferon system provides the first line of host defense against virus infection. Mouse pathogenesis studies have revealed the importance of specific interferon-induced proteins in providing protection against specific viruses. We have previously reported that one such protein, Ifit2, protects neurons of the central nervous system from intranasal infection by the neurotropic rhabdovirus, vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV). Here, we demonstrate that Ifit2 protects the peripheral nervous system from VSV infection as well. In Ifit2(-/-) mice, VSV, injected subcutaneously into the footpad, entered the proximal lymph node, where it replicated and infected the nodal nerve endings. The infection spread to the sciatic nerve, the spinal cord, and the brain, causing paralysis. In contrast, in the wild-type mice, although VSV replicated equally well in the lymph node, infection of the sciatic nerve and the rest of the nervous system was impaired, thus preventing paralysis. Ifit2 protected only the nervous system from VSV infection; other tissues were well protected even in Ifit2(-/-) mice. These results indicate that Ifit2 is the interferon-induced protein that prevents VSV infection of neurons of both the peripheral and the central nervous systems, thus inhibiting the consequent neuropathy, but it is dispensable for protecting the cells of other tissues from VSV infection. Although viral infection is quite common, the immune system effectively protects us from viral diseases. A major part of this protection is mediated by interferon, the antiviral cytokine secreted by virus-infected cells. To empower the neighboring uninfected cells in combating the oncoming infection, interferon induces the synthesis of more than 200 new proteins, many of which have antiviral activities. The virus studied here, vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), like its relative, rabies virus, can cause neuropathy in mice if it enters the peripheral nervous system through skin lesions; however, interferon can protect neurons from VSV infection. We have identified a specific interferon-induced protein, Ifit2, as the protein that protects neurons from VSV infection. Surprisingly, Ifit2 was not needed to protect other cell types from VSV. Our results indicate that the effector antiviral proteins of the interferon system have highly specialized functions.