Previous work showed that the thymus can be infected by RNA viruses as HIV and HTLV-1. We thus hypothesized that the thymus might also be infected by the Zika virus (ZIKV). Herein we provide compelling evidence that ZIKV targets human thymic epithelial cells (TEC) in vivo and in vitro. ZIKV-infection enhances keratinization of TEC, with a decrease in proliferation and increase in cell death. Moreover, ZIKV modulates a high amount of coding RNAs with upregulation of genes related to cell adhesion and migration, as well as non-coding genes including miRNAs, circRNAs and lncRNAs. Moreover, we observed enhanced attachment of lymphoblastic T-cells to infected TEC, as well as virus transfer to those cells. Lastly, alterations in thymuses from babies congenitally infected were seen, with the presence of viral envelope protein in TEC. Taken together, our data reveals that the thymus, particularly the thymic epithelium, is a target for the ZIKV with changes in the expression of molecules that are relevant for interactions with developing thymocytes.
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