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 the 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, Ph.D., 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. The new findings were published online in Cell Stem Cell on August 18, 2016. The open-access article is titled “Zika Virus Infects Neural Progenitors in the Adult Mouse Brain and Alters Proliferation.” “Zika can clearly enter the brain of adults and can wreak havoc,” says Sujan Shresta, Ph.D., a professor at the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology. “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.
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