Publication Details

Category Text Publication
Reference Category Journals
DOI 10.1186/s12985-016-0531-5
Title (Primary) Epithelial cell lines of the cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) are highly susceptible in vitro models to zoonotic Bunya-, Rhabdo-, and Flaviviruses
Author Ehlen, L.; Tödtmann, J.; Specht, S.; Kallies, R.; Papies, J.; Müller, M.A.; Junglen, S.; Drosten, C.; Eckerle, I.
Source Titel Virology Journal
Year 2016
Department UMB
Volume 13
Page From art. 74
Language englisch
Keywords Sigmodon hispidus; Cotton rat; Rodents; Cell culture model; Emerging viruses; Flaviviruses; Bunyaviruses; Rhabdoviruses; Zoonotic viruses
UFZ wide themes RU1;


Small mammals such as bats and rodents have been increasingly recognized as reservoirs of novel potentially zoonotic pathogens. However, few in vitro model systems to date allow assessment of zoonotic viruses in a relevant host context. The cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) is a New World rodent species that has a long-standing history as an experimental animal model due to its unique susceptibility to human viruses. Furthermore, wild cotton rats are associated with a large variety of known or potentially zoonotic pathogens.


A method for the isolation and culture of airway epithelial cell lines recently developed for bats was applied for the generation of rodent airway and renal epithelial cell lines from the cotton rat. Continuous cell lines were characterized for their epithelial properties as well as for their interferon competence. Susceptibility to members of zoonotic Bunya-, Rhabdo-, and Flaviviridae, in particular Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV), vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), West Nile virus (WNV), and tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) was tested. Furthermore, novel arthropod-derived viruses belonging to the families Bunya-, Rhabdo-, and Mesoniviridae were tested.


We successfully established airway and kidney epithelial cell lines from the cotton rat, and characterized their epithelial properties. Cells were shown to be interferon-competent. Viral infection assays showed high-titre viral replication of RVFV, VSV, WNV, and TBEV, as well as production of infectious virus particles. No viral replication was observed for novel arthropod-derived members of the Bunya-, Rhabdo-, and Mesoniviridae families in these cell lines.


In the current study, we showed that newly established cell lines from the cotton rat can serve as host-specific in vitro models for viral infection experiments. These cell lines may also serve as novel tools for virus isolation, as well as for the investigation of virus-host interactions in a relevant host species.

Persistent UFZ Identifier
Ehlen, L., Tödtmann, J., Specht, S., Kallies, R., Papies, J., Müller, M.A., Junglen, S., Drosten, C., Eckerle, I. (2016):
Epithelial cell lines of the cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) are highly susceptible in vitro models to zoonotic Bunya-, Rhabdo-, and Flaviviruses
Virol. J. 13 , art. 74 10.1186/s12985-016-0531-5