Longitudinal histopathological, immunohistochemical, and In Situ hybridization analysis of host and viral biomarkers in liver tissue sections of Ebola (EBOV) infected rhesus macaques
Greenberg, Alexandra Rachel
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INTRODUCTION: Ebola virus (EBOV) is a highly infectious and often lethal filovirus that causes hemorrhagic fever, with a reported case fatality rate of 40-90%. There are currently no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medical countermeasures (MCMs) for EBOV. Non-human primates (NHPs) remain the gold standard animal model for EBOV research as they most accurately recapitulate human disease. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to characterize the temporal viral pathogenesis of EBOV in the liver of infected rhesus macaques using routine histopathology, multiplex immunohistochemistry (mIHC) and multiplex fluorescent In Situ Hybridization (mFISH), refined by digital pathology (DP) and image analysis (DIA). METHODS: 21 FFPE liver sections from EBOV-infected rhesus macaques were examined microscopically (Uninfected controls n=3; 3 DPE n=3; 4 DPE n=3; 5 DPE n=3; 6 DPE n=3; Terminal n=6). Tissues were stained with H&E and PTAH for histopathological scoring. Three serial sections were fluorescently immunolabeled or hybridized under three independent conditions (1.EBOV VP35, Tissue Factor, CD68; 2.EBOV VP35, Heppar, Myeloperoxidase (MPO); 3.EBOV VP35, IL-6, ISG-15). Slides were digitized by a Vectra PolarisTM fluorescent whole slide scanner and DIA was conducted using HaloTM image analysis software. Statistical analysis was conducted using GraphPad PrismTM 8.0. RESULTS: Comparing peracute (3-4 DPE) to acute (5-6 DPE) and terminal (6-8 DPE) EBOV infection, there is a statistically significant (p < 0.05) increase in hepatic inflammation and fibrin thrombi, correlating with an absolute increase in macrophages (CD68), neutrophils (MPO), and total % of Tissue Factor in the liver. There is also a significant increase in the severity of necrosis, which correlates with a decrease in Heppar. While there was significant colocalization of VP35 and CD68 starting at 4 DPE, there was only rare colocalization of VP35 with Heppar, even in terminal animals. Similar to mIHC, progressive and statistically significant differences were observed in gene expression when comparing peracute to acute and terminal EBOV infection. IL-6 predominated within periportal fibrovascular compartments, but also colocalized within cells concurrently expressing EBOV VP35. EBOV VP35 expression was observed within histiocytes, endothelial cells, and less commonly hepatocytes. ISG-15 expression was observed in periportal regions and in proximity to cells expressing EBOV VP35, but colocalization within EBOV VP35 expressing cells was an extremely rare event. CONCLUSION: Qualitative tools are well suited for confirming virulence and viral tissue tropism, but do little to build on our current understanding of disease. Using DIA in partnership with mIHC and mFISH, this study quantified statistically significant temporal changes in the immunoreactivity and hybridization of host and viral biomarkers that have previously been linked to the pathogenesis of EBOV. Taken together, these tools have enabled us to characterize minute changes that reflect magnitudes of biological variability simply not feasible to detect with the human eye. Furthermore, spatial context has refined our current understanding of differential gene expression of EBOV, which has the potential to aid in development of host-directed therapies. The establishment of these benchmarks will serve as a guide for the validation of cross-institutional EBOV animal models.
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