Peripheral serotonin causes dengue virus–induced thrombocytopenia through 5HT2 receptors

Mohamad Fadhli Bin Masri, Chinmay Kumar Mantri, Abhay P. S. Rathore and Ashley L. St. John

Key Points

  • We identified peripheral serotonin derived from mast cells to be required for dengue virus-induced thrombocytopenia.

  • Therapeutic targeting of platelet 5HT2 receptors reversed platelet activation, aggregation, splenic platelet uptake, and thrombocytopenia.

Publisher's Note: There is a Blood Commentary on this article in this issue.


Dengue virus (DENV) is the most prevalent vector-borne viral pathogen, infecting millions of patients annually. Thrombocytopenia, a reduction in circulating platelet counts, is the most consistent sign of DENV-induced disease, independent of disease severity. However, the mechanisms leading to DENV-induced thrombocytopenia are unknown. Here, we show that thrombocytopenia is caused by serotonin derived from mast cells (MCs), which are immune cells that are present in the perivascular space and are a major peripheral source of serotonin. We show that during DENV infection, MCs release serotonin, which prompts platelet activation, aggregation, and enhanced phagocytosis, dependent on 5HT2A receptors. MC deficiency in mice or pharmacologic inhibition of MCs reversed thrombocytopenia. Furthermore, reconstitution of MC-deficient mice with wild-type MCs, but not MCs lacking serotonin synthesis resulting from deficiency in the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase-1, restored the thrombocytopenic phenotype. Exogenous serotonin was also sufficient to overcome the effects of drugs that inhibit platelet activation in vitro and to restore thrombocytopenia in DENV-infected MC-deficient mice. Therapeutic targeting of 5HT2A receptors during DENV infection effectively prevented thrombocytopenia in mice. Similarly, serotonin derived from DENV-activated human MCs led to increased human platelet activation. Thus, MC-derived serotonin is a previously unidentified mechanism of DENV-induced thrombocytopenia and a potential therapeutic target.

  • Submitted August 15, 2018.
  • Accepted February 6, 2019.
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