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J Virol. 2007 Feb;81(3):1110-8. Epub 2006 Nov 15.

Failure to open the blood-brain barrier and deliver immune effectors to central nervous system tissues leads to the lethal outcome of silver-haired bat rabies virus infection.

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Center for Neurovirology, Kimmel Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson University, 1020 Locust St., JAH 454, Philadelphia, PA 19107-6799, USA.


Rabies is a lethal disease caused by neurotropic viruses that are endemic in nature. When exposure to a potentially rabid animal is recognized, prompt administration of virus-neutralizing antibodies, together with active immunization, can prevent development of the disease. However, once the nonspecific clinical symptoms of rabies appear conventional postexposure treatment is unsuccessful. Over the last decade, rabies viruses associated with the silver-haired bat (SHBRV) have emerged as the leading cause of human deaths from rabies in the United States and Canada as a consequence of the fact that exposure to these viruses is often unnoticed. The need to treat SHBRV infection following the development of clinical rabies has lead us to investigate why the immune response to SHBRV fails to protect at a certain stage of infection. We have established that measurements of innate and adaptive immunity are indistinguishable between mice infected with the highly lethal SHBRV and mice infected with an attenuated laboratory rabies virus strain. While a fully functional immune response to SHBRV develops in the periphery of infected animals, the invasion of central nervous system (CNS) tissues by immune cells is reduced and, consequently, the virus is not cleared. Our data indicate that the specific deficit in the SHBRV-infected animal is an inability to enhance blood-brain barrier permeability in the cerebellum and deliver immune effectors to the CNS tissues. Conceivably, at the stage of infection where immune access to the infected CNS tissues is limited, either the provision or the development of antiviral immunity will be ineffective.

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