Zika virus causes testicular atrophy

Zika virus (ZIKV) is an emerging mosquito-borne flavivirus that has recently been found to cause fetal infection and neonatal abnormalities, including microcephaly and neurological dysfunction. ZIKV persists in the semen months after the acute viremic phase in humans. To further understand the consequences of ZIKV persistence in males, we infected Ifnar1−/− mice via subcutaneous injection of a pathogenic but nonlethal ZIKV strain. ZIKV replication persists within the testes even after clearance from the blood, with interstitial, testosterone-producing Leydig cells supporting virus replication. We found high levels of viral RNA and antigen within the epididymal lumen, where sperm is stored, and within surrounding epithelial cells. Unexpectedly, at 21 days post-infection, the testes of the ZIKV-infected mice were significantly smaller compared to those of mock-infected mice, indicating progressive testicular atrophy. ZIKV infection caused a reduction in serum testosterone, suggesting that male fertility can be affected. Our findings have important implications for nonvector-borne vertical transmission, as well as long-term potential reproductive deficiencies, in ZIKV-infected males.

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