Differentiated human SHSY5Y cells provide a reductionist model of herpes simplex virus 1 neurotropism

Mackenzie M. Shipley, Colleen A. Mangold, Chad V. Kuny, Moriah L. Szpara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Neuron-virus interactions that occur during herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection are not fully understood. Neurons are the site of lifelong latency and are a crucial target for long-term suppressive therapy or viral clearance. A reproducible neuronal model of human origin would facilitate studies of HSV and other neurotropic viruses. Current neuronal models in the herpesvirus field vary widely and have caveats, including incomplete differentiation, nonhuman origins, or the use of dividing cells that have neuropotential but lack neuronal morphology. In this study, we used a robust approach to differentiate human SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells over 2.5 weeks, producing a uniform population of mature human neuronal cells. We demonstrate that terminally differentiated SH-SY5Y cells have neuronal morphology and express proteins with subcellular localization indicative of mature neurons. These neuronal cells are able to support a productive HSV-1 infection, with kinetics and overall titers similar to those seen in undifferentiated SH-SY5Y cells and the related SK-N-SH cell line. However, terminally differentiated, neuronal SH-SY5Y cells release significantly less extracellular HSV-1 by 24 h postinfection (hpi), suggesting a unique neuronal response to viral infection. With this model, we are able to distinguish differences in neuronal spread between two strains of HSV-1. We also show expression of the antiviral protein cyclic GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS) in neuronal SHSY5Y cells, which is the first demonstration of the presence of this protein in nonepithelial cells. These data provide a model for studying neuron-virus interactions at the single-cell level as well as via bulk biochemistry and will be advantageous for the study of neurotropic viruses in vitro.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00958-17
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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