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Study suggests Zika virus may damage adult brain

PBR Staff Writer Published 19 August 2016

A new study has indicated the Zika virus, which is known to affect unborn babies, may also damage adult brain cells.

Scientists at the Rockefeller University and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology found evidence that suggests adult brain cells critical to learning and memory might be vulnerable to the Zika virus.

The scientists noted that more research should be undertaken, and the long-term effects of Zika infection in adult humans are presently not known.

But they say damage to the brain's stem cells could lead to problems such as early onset Alzheimer's disease and depression.

Using fluorescent biomarkers, scientists were able to light up the neural progenitor cells that were damaged by the virus.

The Zika virus has also been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition in which the immune system attacks parts of the nervous system, resulting in muscle weakness or paralysis.

La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology professor Sujan Shresta said: “Zika can clearly enter the brain of adults and can wreak havoc.

“But it’s a complex disease—it’s catastrophic for early brain development, yet the majority of adults who are infected with Zika rarely show detectable symptoms. Its effect on the adult brain may be more subtle, and now we know what to look for.”

Scientists said there are still many questions that should be answered, including exactly how translatable findings in this mouse model are to humans.

Rockefeller University adjunct professor Joseph Gleeson said: “The virus seems to be traveling quite a bit as people move around the world.

“Given this study, I think the public health enterprise should consider monitoring for Zika infections in all groups, not just pregnant women.”

Image: Spread by mosquitoes, Zika is widespread in Central and South America, and is becoming more prevalent across the globe. Photo: courtesy of Alex Wild.