Rift Valley fever virus is a Category A arbovirus pathogen that causes hemorrhagic fever, retinitis and encephalitis in Africa and the Middle East. The virus has high potential for deliberate release and bioterrorism since it may be aerosolized and transmitted by inhalation or contact with mucosal tissue as well as by blood-feeding mosquitoes. Given the lack of a small animal model that faithfully recapitulates the diverse outcomes of human infection and the fact that RVF epidemics occur in remote areas, little is known about how innate immune events contribute to disease pathogenesis and protective adaptive immunity aside from limited observations that delayed type I IFN responses are associated with severe illness and mortality. These gaps in knowledge will be addressed by combining study of residents of an area of Kenya where RVF epidemics occur in ~8-year cycles (most recently 2006-2007) with in vitro models of infection and disease pathogenesis. We have observed that RVFV transmission to humans in this area is much greater than previously suspected, both during epidemic and inter-epidemic periods, with up to 25% lifetime risk of infection.
In Specific Aim 1 we will define the risk factors for and spectrum of chronic disease phenotypes (primarily retinitis) in persons infected during earlier, repeated RVF epidemics and pre-position the necessary systems to test panels of patients with and without RVF-associated encephalitis and/or hemorrhagic fever during the next epidemic.
In Specific Aim 2 we will use in vitro models to define the innate immune pathways, e.g. TLR and RNA helicases, affected by attenuated RVFV, identify key cellular targets at sites of viral inoculation, dissemination and pathogenesis, e.g. oral and conjunctiva epithelium, dendritic cells, retinal pigmented epithelium and venous endothelium, and examine how attenuated RVFV alters the ability of dendritic cells to present antigen to T cells.
In Specific Aim 3 we will examine the relationship between serologic markers of prior infection and RVFV-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell memory, identify viral epitopes that elicit T cell memory, and correlate in vitro PBMC innate and adaptive immune responses to RVFV epitopes with the development of retinitis.
In Specific Aim 4 we will determine how genetic polymorphism of innate immunity accounts for heterogeneity in retinitis outcomes and adaptive immunity. Overall this project will provide novel information regarding how innate and adaptive immunity to RVFV determines infection and disease outcomes in humans at high-risk for exposure to this Category A pathogen.

Public Health Relevance

This project is relevant to the central theme of the MRCE concerned with innate immunity to biodefense pathogens and advances human translational research concerned with understanding how innate and adaptive immunity protect against infection and contribute to disease pathogenesis of a Category A Bunyavirus that has high potential for bioterrorism.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Specialized Center--Cooperative Agreements (U54)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAI1)
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Washington University
Saint Louis
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