Hepatitis E virus (HEV), as a hepatotropic virus, is supposed to exclusively infect the liver and only cause hepatitis. However, a broad range of extrahepatic manifestations (in particular, idiopathic neurological disorders) have been recently reported in association with its infection. In this study, we have demonstrated that various human neural cell lines (embryonic stem cell–derived neural lineage cells) induced pluripotent stem cell–derived human neurons and primary mouse neurons are highly susceptible to HEV infection. Treatment with interferon-α or ribavirin, the off-label antiviral drugs for chronic hepatitis E, exerted potent antiviral activities against HEV infection in neural cells. More importantly, in mice and monkey peripherally inoculated with HEV particles, viral RNA and protein were detected in brain tissues. Finally, patients with HEV-associated neurological disorders shed the virus into cerebrospinal fluid, indicating a direct infection of their nervous system. Thus, HEV is neurotropic in vitro, and in mice, monkeys, and possibly humans. These results challenge the dogma of HEV as a pure hepatotropic virus and suggest that HEV infection should be considered in the differential diagnosis of idiopathic neurological disorders.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Central nervous system, Cerebrospinal fluid, Hepatitis E virus, Peripheral nervous system
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1093/infdis/jix079, hdl.handle.net/1765/101698
Journal The Journal of Infectious Diseases
Zhou, X, Huang, F, Xu, L, Lin, Z. (Zhanmin), Vrij, F.M.S, Ayo-Martin, A.C. (Ane C.), … Pan, Q. (2017). Hepatitis E virus infects neurons and brains. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 215(8), 1197–1206. doi:10.1093/infdis/jix079