Zika virus infects early- and midgestation human maternal decidual tissues, inducing distinct innate tissue responses in the maternal-fetal interface

Yiska Weisblum, Esther Oiknine-Djian, Olesya M. Vorontsov, Ronit Haimov-Kochman, Zichria Zakay-Rones, Karen Meir, David Shveiky, Sharona Elgavish, Yuval Nevo, Moshe Roseman, Michal Bronstein, David Stockheim, Ido From, Iris Eisenberg, Aya A. Lewkowicz, Simcha Yagel, Amos Panet, Dana G. Wolf*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Zika virus (ZIKV) has emerged as a cause of congenital brain anomalies and a range of placenta-related abnormalities, highlighting the need to unveil the modes of maternal-fetal transmission. The most likely route of vertical ZIKV transmission is via the placenta. The earliest events of ZIKV transmission in the maternal decidua, representing the maternal uterine aspect of the chimeric placenta, have remained unexplored. Here, we show that ZIKV replicates in first-trimester human maternal-decidual tissues grown ex vivo as three-dimensional (3D) organ cultures. An efficient viral spread in the decidual tissues was demonstrated by the rapid upsurge and continued increase of tissue-associated ZIKV load and titers of infectious cellfree virus progeny, released from the infected tissues. Notably, maternal decidual tissues obtained at midgestation remained similarly susceptible to ZIKV, whereas fetus-derived chorionic villi demonstrated reduced ZIKV replication with increasing gestational age. A genome-wide transcriptome analysis revealed that ZIKV substantially upregulated the decidual tissue innate immune responses. Further comparison of the innate tissue response patterns following parallel infections with ZIKV and human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) revealed that unlike HCMV, ZIKV did not induce immune cell activation or trafficking responses in the maternal-fetal interface but rather upregulated placental apoptosis and cell death molecular functions. The data identify the maternal uterine aspect of the human placenta as a likely site of ZIKV transmission to the fetus and further reveal distinct patterns of innate tissue responses to ZIKV. Our unique experimental model and findings could further serve to study the initial stages of congenital ZIKV transmission and pathogenesis and evaluate the effect of new therapeutic interventions.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere01905-16
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Society for Microbiology.


  • Congenital HCMV
  • Congenital Zika virus
  • Decidua
  • Decidual innate immune response
  • Intrauterine transmission
  • Organ culture
  • Placenta


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