For more than three decades it has been recognized that small amounts of vector saliva can significantly alter the infectivity of vector-borne pathogens and subsequent in vivo dynamics. Mouse and nonhuman primate models now serve as useful platforms to study Zika virus (ZIKV) pathogenesis, candidate therapies, and vaccines, but they rely on needle inoculation of virus: the effects of mosquito-borne infection on disease outcome have not been explored in these models. To model vector-borne transmission of ZIKV in nonhuman primates, we infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with ZIKV and allowed them to feed on four ZIKV-naive rhesus macaques. We compared ZIKV replication kinetics and tissue distribution between animals that were subcutaneously inoculated with 104 plaque-forming units of ZIKV and those that were exposed via mosquito bite. Here, we show that infection via mosquito bite delays ZIKV replication to peak viral loads in rhesus macaques. Importantly, in mosquito-infected animals ZIKV tissue distribution was limited to hemolymphatic tissues, female reproductive tract tissues, kidney, and liver, potentially emulating key features of human ZIKV infections, most of which are characterized by mild or asymptomatic disease. This newly developed system will be valuable for studying ZIKV disease because it more closely mimics human infection by mosquito bite than needle-based inoculations.
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