Zika research shows how virus could affect the developing brain

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | March 4, 2016

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Quinn Eastman
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qeastma@emory.edu

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Researchers have shown that the Zika virus (shown here) can infect neural progenitor cells critical for brain development.

Researchers from Emory University School of Medicine were part of a recent advance in understanding how the Zika virus harms the developing brain.

The research was published March 4 in Cell Stem Cell

Emory geneticist Peng Jin, PhD, and his colleagues were part of a rapidly assembled research team, including scientists from Johns Hopkins and Florida State University, that showed the Zika virus can infect neural progenitor cells critical for brain development.

The research suggests a potential explanation for the cases of microcephaly seen in Latin America during the Zika outbreak.

The team showed that the Zika virus infects a type of neural stem cell that gives rise to the brain’s cerebral cortex. The team used neural progenitor cells, formed from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which originally came from adult skin cells. The scientists showed that the virus infects neural progenitor cells more readily than iPSCs or immature neurons.

The role of Jin's lab was to analyze how the patterns of gene activity in neuronal cells were altered by Zika infection.While the study does not prove the direct link between Zika and microcephaly, it is a first step that shows where the virus may be doing the most damage.

The study was supported by The Florida State University, the National Institutes of Health, and the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund.

Cell Stem Cell, Tang, Hammack, Ogden, Wen, and Qian et al.: "Zika Virus Infects Human Cortical Neural Precursors and Attenuates Their Growth" http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.stem.2016.02.016