ZIKV was first identified in the 1940s as a mosquito-borne virus; however, sexual transmission, which is uncommon for arboviruses, was demonstrated more than 60 years later. Tissue culture and animal models have allowed scientists to study how this transmission is possible. Immunocompromised mice infected with ZIKV had high viral loads in their testes, and infection of immunocompetent female mice was achieved following intravaginal inoculation or inoculation via mating with an infected male. These mouse studies lead researchers to investigate the individual components of the male reproductive system. In cell culture and mouse models, ZIKV can persist in Sertoli and germ cells of the testes and epithelial cells in the epididymis, which may lead to sexual transmission even after ZIKV has been cleared from other tissues. ZIKV has also been studied in nonhuman primates (NHPs), which appears to mimic the limited human epidemiological data, with low rates of symptomatic individuals and similar clinical signs. Although refinement is needed, these animal models have proven to be key in ZIKV research and continue to help uncovering the mechanisms of sexual transmission. This review will focus on the animal models used to elucidate the mechanisms of sexual transmission and persistence of flaviviruses.
Part of the book: Current Concepts in Zika Research