Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is an arbovirus capable of causing a severe and often debilitating rheumatic syndrome in humans. CHIKV replicates in a wide variety of cell types in mammals, which has made attributing pathologic outcomes to replication at specific sites difficult. To assess the contribution of CHIKV replication in skeletal muscle cells to pathogenesis, we engineered a CHIKV strain exhibiting restricted replication in these cells via incorporation of target sequences for skeletal muscle cell–specific miR-206. This virus, which we term SKE, displayed diminished replication in skeletal muscle cells in a mouse model of CHIKV disease. Mice infected with SKE developed less severe disease signs, including diminished swelling in the inoculated foot and less necrosis and inflammation in the interosseous muscles. SKE infection was associated with diminished infiltration of T cells into the interosseous muscle as well as decreased production of Il1b, Il6, Ip10, and Tnfa transcripts. Importantly, blockade of the IL-6 receptor led to diminished swelling of a control CHIKV strain capable of replication in skeletal muscle, reducing swelling to levels observed in mice infected with SKE. These data implicate replication in skeletal muscle cells and release of IL-6 as important mediators of CHIKV disease.
Anthony J. Lentscher, Mary K. McCarthy, Nicholas A. May, Bennett J. Davenport, Stephanie A. Montgomery, Krishnan Raghunathan, Nicole McAllister, Laurie A. Silva, Thomas E. Morrison, Terence S. Dermody