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Scientists Report Insights Into Zika Virus and Microcephaly

The pathogen appears to attack cells crucial to the developing fetal brain

microscopic view of zika virus

FRIDAY, March 4, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Laboratory studies have shown that Zika can infect a type of neural stem cell that gives rise to the cerebral cortex of the brain, according to research published online March 4 in Cell Stem Cell.

The researchers tested Zika's effect on these cells using a Zika virus stock grown in mosquito cells, to replicate the means by which the virus infects human beings.

The virus was able to spread rapidly through these stem cells, the researchers learned. In as few as three days following exposure to the virus, 90 percent of the cortical neural progenitor cells in a lab dish had become infected. Infected human neural progenitor cells were found to release infectious Zika virus particles. Many of the infected cells died, and others showed disruption that could limit their ability to divide and flourish.

Study author Zhexing Wen, Ph.D., a from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, told HealthDay that their findings are a "first step" and provide an "entrance point" to seeking further answers on ways to combat the Zika virus and, hopefully, microcephaly.

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