Dose-Dependent Response to Infection with Ebola Virus in the Ferret Model and Evidence of Viral Evolution in the Eye.
Watson RJ., Tree J., Fotheringham SA., Hall Y., Dong X., Steeds K., Gouriet J., Salguero FJ., Burton C., Pitman J., Easterbrook L., Richards KS., Burton J., Bewley K., Bruce C., Hiscox JA., Carroll MW., Funnell SGP.
Filoviruses cause high-consequence infections with limited approved medical countermeasures (MCMs). MCM development is dependent upon well-characterized animal models for the assessment of antiviral agents and vaccines. Following large-scale Ebola virus (EBOV) disease outbreaks in Africa, some survivors are left with long-term sequelae and persistent virus in immune-privileged sites for many years. We report the characterization of the ferret as a model for Ebola virus infection, reproducing disease and lethality observed in humans. The onset of clinical signs is rapid, and EBOV is detected in the blood, oral, and rectal swabs and all tissues studied. We identify viral RNA in the eye (a site of immune privilege) and report on specific genomic changes in EBOV present in this structure. Thus, the ferret model has utility in testing MCMs that prevent or treat long-term EBOV persistence in immune-privileged sites. IMPORTANCE Recent reemergence of Ebola in Guinea that caused over 28,000 cases between 2013 and 2016 has been linked to the original virus from that region. It appears the virus has remained in the region for at least 5 years and is likely to have been maintained in humans. Persistence of Ebola in areas of the body for extended periods of time has been observed, such as in the eye and semen. Despite the importance of reintroduction of Ebola from this route, such events are rare in the population, which makes studying medical interventions to clear persistent virus difficult. We studied various doses of Ebola in ferrets and detected virus in the eyes of most ferrets. We believe this model will enable the study of medical interventions that promote clearance of Ebola virus from sites that promote persistence.