The infamous Zika virus, carried by mosquito vectors, has now been linked to microcephaly and a host of other neurological ailments in newborns. Infected mothers giving birth are very likely to pass the virus on to their baby, which results in damaged brain progenitor cells, according to UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers. A recent study by these researchers has revealed how this process occurs.
The researchers used a strain of Zika that is currently prevalent in the Americas, and upon extensive examination, found out how the virus infects unborn babies. It was found that the virus can infect some 20% of the baby’s cells, can evade immune system responses, and undergoes replication for many weeks.
According to Dr. John Schoggins, Assistant Professor of Microbiology at the UT Southwestern Medical Center and a lead author in the study, the cell system they examined in their research mirrors the findings of pathologists examining the brain tissue in infected infants. Little has been known as to the exact mechanism of how infected mothers pass on these negative traits to their children. It seems to be that the immune response within infants isn’t equipped to resist the virus.
Zika is commonly spread via either infected mosquitoes or as a sexually transmitted infection. Symptoms are usually mild in adults and often include no more than fever, rashes and joint pain. Nevertheless, in infants the story is different. Zika virus has been proven to result in microcephaly in infants, and also result in diseases of the eye, hearing problems and stunted growth. The disease is passed when a mother becomes infected with the virus whilst she is pregnant, according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the virus an emergency health crisis of International proportions. Until now, it’s been unknown exactly how the Zika virus harms the unborn baby in infected mothers. Hopefully with these new findings by Dr. Schoggins and his fellow researchers, specific biological targets for new drugs could be developed.
Source: Cell Reports