To elucidate the pathogenesis of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus infections, we used histopathology, immunohistochemistry, and in situ hybridization to track the spread and early cellular targets of viral infection in mice. Young mice were inoculated with virulent EEE virus in their right rear footpad and were followed in a time-course study for 4 days. Virulent EEE virus produced a biphasic illness characterized by an early self-limiting replication phase in peripheral tissues followed by an invariably fatal central nervous system (CNS) phase. In the early extraneural phase, there was primary amplifying replication of virus within fibroblasts at the inoculation site and within osteoblasts in active growth areas of bone that resulted in a transient high-titer viremia. Pathological changes and viral infection were observed as early as 12 hours post-infection (PI) in osteoblasts, skeletal muscle myocytes, and in fibroblasts along fascial sheaths. The severity and extent of infection in peripheral tissues peaked at day 1 PI. In the neural phase of infection, virus was first detected in the brain on day 1 PI, with rapid interneuronal spread of infection leading to death by day 4 PI. EEE virus appeared to be directly cytopathic for neurons. The very rapid onset and apparently random and widely dispersed infection in the CNS, with concurrent sparing of olfactory neuroepithelium, strongly suggests that invasion of the CNS by EEE occurs by a vascular route, rather than via peripheral nerves or the olfactory neuroepithelium. Our finding that metaphyseal osteoblasts are an early site of amplifying viral replication may explain the higher-titer viremias and higher incidence of neuroinvasion and fulminant encephalitis seen in the young, and may also explain why mature animals become refractory to encephalitis after peripheral inoculation with EEE virus.
Vogel, P., Kell, W. M., Fritz, D. L., Parker, M. D., & Schoepp, R. J. (2005). Early events in the pathogenesis of eastern equine encephalitis virus in mice. American Journal of Pathology, 166(1), 159–171. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)62241-9