October 27, 2017
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, report that the Zika virus is transmitted from mother to fetus by infected cells that, ironically, will later develop into the brain’s first and primary form of defense against invasive pathogens.
The findings are published in the current online issue of Human Molecular Genetics.
“It’s a Trojan Horse strategy,” said Alysson Muotri, PhD, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine departments of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “During embryogenesis — the early stages of prenatal development — cells called microglia form in the yolk sac and then disperse throughout the central nervous system (CNS) of the developing child.
“In the brain, these microglia will become resident macrophages whose job is to constantly clear away plaques, damaged cells and infectious agents. Our findings show that the Zika virus can infect these early microglia, sneaking into the brain where they transmit the virus to other brain cells, resulting in the devastating neurological damage we see in some newborns.”