Although the outcome of flavivirus infection can vary from asymptomatic to lethal, environmental factors modulating disease severity are poorly defined. Here, we observed increased susceptibility of mice to severe West Nile (WNV), Dengue, and Zika virus infections after treatment with oral antibiotics (Abx) that depleted the gut microbiota. Abx treatment impaired the development of optimal T cell responses, with decreased levels of WNV-specific CD8+ T cells associated with increased infection and immunopathology. Abx treatments that resulted in enhanced WNV susceptibility generated changes in the overall structure of the gut bacterial community and in the abundance of specific bacterial taxa. As little as 3 days of treatment with ampicillin was sufficient to alter host immunity and WNV outcome. Our results identify oral Abx therapy as a potential environmental determinant of systemic viral disease, and they raise the possibility that perturbation of the gut microbiota may have deleterious consequences for subsequent flavivirus infections.
April 9, 2018