IRE1-mediated unfolded protein response promotes the replication of tick-borne flaviviruses in a virus and cell-type dependent manner
Tick-borne flaviviruses (TBFV) can cause severe neurological complications in humans, but differences in tissue tropism and pathogenicity have been described for individual virus strains. Viral protein synthesis leads to the induction of the unfolded protein response (UPR) within infected cells. The IRE1 pathway has been hypothesized to support flavivirus replication by increasing protein and lipid biogenesis. Here, we investigated the role of the UPR in TBFV infection in human astrocytes, neuronal and intestinal cell lines that had been infected with tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) strains Neudoerfl and MucAr-HB-171/11 as well as Langat virus (LGTV). Both TBEV strains replicated better than LGTV in central nervous system (CNS) cells. TBEV strain MucAr-HB-171/11, which is associated with gastrointestinal symptoms, replicated best in intestinal cells. All three viruses activated the inositol-requiring enzyme 1 (IRE1) pathway via the X-box binding protein 1 (XBP1). Interestingly, the neurotropic TBEV strain Neudoerfl induced a strong upregulation of XBP1 in all cell types, but with faster kinetics in CNS cells. In contrast, TBEV strain MucAr-HB-171/11 failed to activate the IRE1 pathway in astrocytes. The low pathogenic LGTV led to a mild induction of IRE1 signaling in astrocytes and intestinal cells. When cells were treated with IRE1 inhibitors prior to infection, TBFV replication in astrocytes was significantly reduced. This confirms a supporting role of the IRE1 pathway for TBFV infection in relevant viral target cells and suggests a correlation between viral tissue tropism and the cell-type dependent induction of the unfolded protein response.