In nature, vector-borne flaviviruses are persistently cycled between either the tick or mosquito vector and small mammals such as rodents, skunks, and swine. These viruses account for considerable human morbidity and mortality worldwide. Increasing and substantial evidence of viral persistence in humans, which includes the isolation of RNA by RT-PCR and infectious virus by culture, continues to be reported. Viral persistence can also be established in vitro in various human, animal, arachnid, and insect cell lines in culture. Although some research has focused on the potential roles of defective virus particles, evasion of the immune response through the manipulation of autophagy and/or apoptosis, the precise mechanism of flavivirus persistence is still not well understood. We propose additional research for further understanding of how viral persistence is established in different systems. Avenues for additional studies include determining whether the multifunctional flavivirus protein NS5 has a role in viral persistence, the development of relevant animal models of viral persistence, and investigating the host responses that allow vector-borne flavivirus replication without detrimental effects on infected cells. Such studies might shed more light on the viral–host relationships and could be used to unravel the mechanisms for establishment of persistence.
Persistent infections by vector-borne flaviviruses are an important, but inadequately studied topic.