The effect of Zika virus infection in the ferret

Elizabeth B. Hutchinson, Mitali Chatterjee, Laura Reyes, Francis T. Djankpa, William G. Valiant, Bernard Dardzinski, Joseph J. Mattapallil, Carlo Pierpaoli, Sharon L. Juliano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Although initial observations of infections with the Zika virus describe a mild illness, more recent reports show that infections by Zika result in neurotropism. In 2015, substantial congenital malformations were observed, with numerous infants born with microcephaly in Brazil. To study the underlying mechanism and effects of the disease, it is critical to find suitable animal models. Rodents lack an immune system parallel to humans and also have lissencephalic brains, which are likely to react differently to infections. As the smallest gyrencephalic mammal, ferrets may provide an important animal model to study the Zika virus, as their brains share many characteristics with humans. To evaluate the prospect of using ferrets to study Zika virus infection, we injected seven pregnant jills with the PR strain subcutaneously on gestational day 21, corresponding to the initiation of corticogenesis. These injections resulted in mixed effects. Two animals died of apparent infection, and all kits were resorbed in another animal that did not die. The other four animals remained pregnant until gestational day 40, when the kits were delivered by caesarian section. We evaluated the animals using CT, MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, and immunohistochemistry. The kits displayed a number of features compatible with an infection that impacted both the brain and skull. The outcomes, however, were variable and differed within and across litters, which ranged from the absence of observable abnormalities to prominent changes, suggesting differential vulnerability of kits to infection by the Zika virus or to subsequent mechanisms of neurodevelopmental disruption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1706-1719
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • CT
  • RRID:AB_11217435
  • RRID:AB_234119
  • RRID:AB_609914
  • RRID:AB_726362
  • diffusion tensor MRI
  • microcephaly
  • neural development
  • neural progenitor
  • vasculature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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