GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research

First Thesis Advisor

Alan L. Rothman, M.D.


Dengue Virus, Dendritic Cells, Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever, Tumor Necrosis Factors, Interleukins, Interferons


Dengue viruses (DV) are re-emerging mosquito-borne pathogens for which four distinct lineages, grouped based on serology and referred to as serotypes 1-4 (DIV-D4V), have been described. Epidemiological data imply that re-infection with a "heterologous" serotype, i.e, one other than that to which the individual was originally exposed, enhances the risk for development of severe disease, dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF). The hallmark of DHF is a transient capillary leakage syndrome of rapid onset, temporally associated with the resolution of fever and viremia. In its most grave form, the vascular permeability phenomenon in DHF may progress to dengue shock syndrome (DSS), which is often fatal in the absence of appropriate medical care.

Despite the fulminant nature of vascular leakage during DHF/DSS, this phenomenon does not appear to be due to direct cytopathic effects of DV. Rather, inappropriate reactivation and/or regulation of dengue-specific memory are the prevailing theorized (immunopathological) etiologies. Traditional vaccine development techniques have proven insufficient for DV, since any vaccine must offer complete protection against all four serotypes to avoid enhanced pathology on natural viral challenge. Understanding the underlying mechanisms that contribute to dengue disease, particularly the development of dengue-specific memory, is therefore of critical importance.

Dengue immunopathology and the specific aspects of immunological memory that determine disease severity are heatedly debated. Previous research in our lab has suggested that T cell responses contribute to the severity of dengue illness. Clinical data indicate enhanced immune activation in more grave cases of DV infection, and serotype cross-reactive T cells from multiple individuals are present after both primary and secondary dengue infections. However, little is known about the conditions under which T cells are primed and dengue-specific memory is generated.

Dendritic cells (DCs) are bone marrow-derived cells that play a central role in directing activity within the immune system. DCs shape quantitative and qualitative aspects of adaptive immunity, and therefore the intrinsic characteristics of host memory to a pathogen. DCs are essential in generating primary immune responses, due to their particular effectiveness in stimulating naïve T cells. DCs also play important roles in the reactivation of memory to an infectious agent, and as reservoirs for the dissemination of invading microorganisms. Exposure to pathogens or their products initiates a series of phenotypic and functional changes in DCs, termed maturation. DC maturation involves a coordinated response of immunomodulatory surface molecule elaboration and cytokine production, culminating in antigen presentation to, and co-stimulation of, T cells specific for the invading agent. The DC response is ostensibly tailored to facilitate effective elimination by regulating effective downstream interactions of the DC with T cells.

A number of viruses have evolved to infect DCs and alter their functional behavior, facilitating their own survival within the host, and the herd. DV readily infects DCs both in primary cell cultures and in vivo. However, reports on the effects of DV infection on DC maturation vary both with regard to some of the cytokines produced, and the phenotypes of infected versus bystander cells. Although DCs appear to be activated following DV exposure, responses on the single-cell level appear to depend on the infection state of the cell, hypothetically driven by intracellular virus-mediated effects. Therefore, downstream responses to these divergent populations - i.e., actively infected cells versus uninfected bystander cells - are likely to be the consequence of at least two modes of DC behavior. Because DCs play a pivotal role in adaptive immune development, and because the resulting memory response appears to be critical in affecting disease pathology after heterologous DV re-infection, I sought to explore the phenomena of DC maturation in response to dengue exposure, and to begin to answer the question of how active infection alters the functional capabilities of DCs. Notably, primary dengue infection is generally well-controlled with minimal pathology. Therefore, this thesis addresses the hypothesis that DV infection of DCs results in cellular activation and stimulation of antiviral immunity, despite virus-mediated alteration of DC maturation.

In order to address this hypothesis, I examined both DV infection-dependent and independent effects on DC functional responses including surface molecule regulation secretory activity, and CD4 T cell allostimulatory priming. DCs derived from human peripheral blood monocytes were readily infected with multiple strains of DV. DV infection of DCs derived from separate donors was dose-dependent, with substantial variability in DC susceptibility to infection. Exposure to live DV activated surface molecule expression in DCs, similar to the effects of defined maturation stimuli including a combination of TNF-α and IFN-α, or LPS. In addition, UV-inactivated DV induced expression of cell surface molecules, albeit to a lesser extent than did live virus demonstrating inherent stimulatory properties of DV particles. Using intracellular staining for DV envelope (E) protein, I detected increased surface molecule expression on both infected DCs and uninfected bystander DCs from the same culture, as compared to mock-infected DCs. These data indicate that activation was not prevented in cells undergoing active viral replication. However, the degree of surface molecule induction depended on the infection state of the cell. Infected DCs had enhanced PD-L2 and MHC II expression relative to uninfected bystander cells, while PD-L1, CD80, CD86, and MHC I expression were suppressed with active infection. Therefore, intracellular DV replication altered the process of cell surface molecule regulation within these cells.

DV infection of DCs also resulted in the secretion of a broad array of cytokines and chernokines. These included the antiviral cytokine IFN-α, inflammatory cytokines TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-1α, and inflammatory chemokines IP10, MCP-1, MIP-1α, and RANTES. DV infection did not induce DC production of the IL-12 p70 heterodimer, and secretion of the immunosuppressive cytokine IL-10 was low in most experiments. Similar to the results seen with surface molecule induction, UV inactivation of DV reduced, but did not eliminate, cytokine and chemokine responses. At the single-cell level, TNF-α and IP10 production profiles of infected DCs and uninfected bystander DCs were distinct. DV infection in DCs reduced production of IP10, but stimulated TNF-α as compared to uninfected bystander cells in the same culture. Blocking experiments demonstrated that IFN-α/β produced by DCs in response to infection actively inhibited viral protein expression and drove IP10, but not TNF-α, production.

DV infection of DCs did not consistently suppress DC stimulation of allogeneic CD4 T cell proliferation. In cases where infection enhanced DC stimulatory function, T cell proliferation was less pronounced than that induced by DCs activated with exogenous TNF-α plus IFN-α. Increasing multiplicity of infection (MOI) of DCs with DV resulted in increasing DC infection rates, but a statistically significant trend at the highest MOIs for decreased T cell alloproliferation, suggesting that direct infection of DCs reduces their CD4 T cell priming function. MOI-dependent reduction in DC stimulatory function depended on replication-competent virus. Increased MOIs during DV infection of DCs did not cause an elevation in detectable IL-10 in supernatants derived from T-DC co-cultures. In addition, increased DV MOI of DCs was not associated with increased levels of either IL-13 or IFN-γ in supernatants from T-DC co-culture, suggesting that actively infected DC do not skew CD4 T cells towards a specific Th phenotype. These data demonstrate that DV infection induces functional maturation of DCs that is modified by the presence of virus through both IFN-dependent and independent mechanisms. However, the allostimulatory phenotype of DCs was not universally enhanced, nor was it skewed towards antiviral (Th1)-type responses.

These data suggest a model whereby dengue infection during primary illness results in controlled immune stimulation through activation of bystander DCs, and the generation of mixed Th-type responses. Direct DV infection of DCs appears to attenuate activation of, and potentially clearance by, antiviral mechanisms. During secondary infection, reduced IP10 production and enhanced TNF-α secretion by infected cells coupled with MHC I downregulation and enhanced PD-L2 expression, would subvert both Th1 CD4 T cell recruitment and result in CD8 T cell suppression and death. Furthermore, DV-specific effects on DCs would allow for continued viral replication in the absence of effective clearance. These DV-mediated effects would modify T cell memory responses to infected DC, and potentially facilitate the expansion of pathologic T cell subsets. Contributing to this pathological cascade, antibody-dependent enhancement of infection in monocytic cells and macrophages would shift antigen presentation and cytokine production paradigms, increasing the risk of DHF.



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