Heparan sulfate is an important mediator of Ebola virus infection in polarized epithelial cells

Manasi Tamhankar, Dawn M. Gerhardt, Richard S. Bennett, Nicole Murphy, Peter B. Jahrling, Jean L. Patterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Currently, no FDA-approved vaccines or treatments are available for Ebola virus disease (EVD), and therapy remains largely supportive. Ebola virus (EBOV) has broad tissue tropism and can infect a variety of cells including epithelial cells. Epithelial cells differ from most other cell types by their polarized phenotype and barrier function. In polarized cells, the apical and basolateral membrane domains are demarcated by tight junctions, and specialized sorting machinery, which results in a difference in composition between the two membrane domains. These specialized sorting functions can have important consequences for viral infections. Differential localization of a viral receptor can restrict virus entry to a particular membrane while polarized sorting can lead to a vectorial virus release. The present study investigated the impact of cell polarity on EBOV infection. Methods: Characteristics of EBOV infection in polarized cells were evaluated in the polarized Caco-2 model grown on semipermeable transwells. Transepithelial resistance (TEER), which is a function of tight junctions, was used to assess epithelial cell polarization. EBOV infection was assessed with immunofluorescence microscopy and qPCR. Statistical significance was calculated using one-way ANOVA and significance was set at p < 0.05. Results: Our data indicate that EBOV preferentially infects cells from the basolateral route, and this preference may be influenced by the resistance across the Caco-2 monolayer. Infection occurs without changes in cellular permeability. Further, our data show that basolateral infection bias may be dependent on polarized distribution of heparan sulfate, a known viral attachment factor. Treatment with iota-carrageenan, or heparin lyase, which interrupts viral interaction with cellular heparan sulfate, significantly reduced cell susceptibility to basolateral infection, likely by inhibiting virus attachment. Conclusions: Our results show cell polarity has an impact on EBOV infection. EBOV preferentially infects polarized cells through the basolateral route. Access to heparan sulfate is an important factor during basolateral infection and blocking interaction of cellular heparan sulfate with virus leads to significant inhibition of basolateral infection in the polarized Caco-2 cell model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number135
JournalVirology Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 31 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Caco-2
  • Ebola virus
  • Heparan sulfate
  • Polarized cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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