Aug 18, 2016

Zika infection may affect adult brain cells, suggesting risk may not be limited to pregnant women

Brazil
Florida
USA
by
Rockefeller University
Zika in the adult brain: Illumination of the fluorescent biomarker in green revealed that Zika can infect the adult mouse brain in a region full of neural progenitor cells, which play an important role in learning and memory. Photo: Rockefeller Newswire
Zika in the adult brain: Illumination of the fluorescent biomarker in green revealed that Zika can infect the adult mouse brain in a region full of neural progenitor cells, which play an important role in learning and memory. Photo: Rockefeller Newswire

Concerns over the Zika virus have focused on pregnant women due to mounting evidence that it causes brain abnormalities in developing fetuses. However, new research in mice from scientists at The Rockefeller University and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology suggests that certain adult brain cells may be vulnerable to infection as well. Among these are populations of cells that serve to replace lost or damaged neurons throughout adulthood, and are also thought to be critical to learning and memory.

“This is the first study looking at the effect of Zika infection on the adult brain,” says Joseph Gleeson, adjunct professor at Rockefeller, head of the Laboratory of Pediatric Brain Disease, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “Based on our findings, getting infected with Zika as an adult may not be as innocuous as people think.”

Although more research is needed to determine if this damage has long-term biological implications or the potential to affect behavior, the findings suggest the possibility that the Zika virus, which has become widespread in Central and South America over the past eight months, may be more harmful than previously believed