This image compares the brain of a baby that has developed normally (top), the brain of a baby that has developed primary microcephaly (middle), and the brain of a baby from Brazil whose mother contracted Zika virus during her pregnancy (bottom). The bottom image indicates several abnormalities, including a severe reduction in brain size, excess fluid around the brain (external hydrocephalus) and calcifications in the brain tissue that indicate abnormal brain development. IMAGE CREDIT: Dr. Lavinia Schuler-Faccini, Genetics Department, Federal University in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
New research out today in the journal Cell Stem Cell indicates a likely link between the Zika virus and abnormal brain development. Scientists are studying if the spread of Zika by mosquitoes in Latin America is linked to the increased rates of microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads. The study was conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Florida State University and Emory University.
Dr. William Dobyns, a pediatric neurogeneticist at the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute who treats and studies microcephaly, sat down with On the Pulse to discuss the new research published today.
Q: Does this new study published today indicate a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly in newborns?
Dobyns: The scientists who did this work confirmed that when developing brain cells are exposed to the Zika virus, it interferes with normal brain development.
The scientists studied what would happen if neural stem cells, which are the basic building blocks of a developing brain, were exposed to the Zika virus. These neural stem cells give rise to neurons and provide the scaffolding that allows the rest of the brain to develop properly. When neural stem cells do not develop normally, it interferes with brain development.
The paper showed that the 90% of neural stem cells exposed to Zika were infected and began to make copies of the virus. Many of the cells died or were unable to divide and create normal brain cells.
Q: What does this research mean for the scientific community studying the Zika virus?
Dobyns: This research helps scientists understand how the Zika virus could be leading to the birth defects we are seeing. It gives us a path to research drugs and vaccines to prevent Zika infection from causing brain defects. Read full post »