Zika virus, from mosquito to expectant mother to newborn baby. A new mechanism has been identified linking infection with Zika, the virus transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, to the brain development of unborn children. The discovery, the result of research conducted by the CNR Institute of Neuroscience and the University of Pisa, was published in Stem Cell Reports. Congenital Zika syndrome was first described in 2015 in Brazil in some newborns whose mothers became infected during pregnancy.
Zika virus affects the brain of newborns
During pregnancy, the Zika virus actually crossed the placental barrier causing severe damage to the fetus’s central nervous system, including microcephaly and other pathologies of brain development. To understand how the virus can cause these changes, the researchers used an innovative system of human neural stem cells. Starting with the intuition that congenital Zika syndrome has strong similarities to Foxg1 syndrome, which the Cnr-In research group has long studied, Zika has also been observed to alter both the quantity and intracellular localization of Foxg1, a protease protein for cortical development. In fact, the latter represents the most developed part of our brain and ensures the cognitive abilities of man, his awareness of himself and the world around him.
Correct size and architecture of the cerebral cortex are acquired during embryonic development in a process that is perhaps one of the most complex, sensitive and intimate aspects of human beings. “For the first time – explain to the researchers – this work identifies Foxg1 as a susceptibility factor to Zika virus, explaining many aspects of microcephaly and cognitive delays caused by this viral infection, and in perspective we can use Foxg1 as a sensor to detect which others have suffered” attacks during embryonic development and to understand the mechanisms underlying Diseases such as cortical abnormalities, autism, and schizophrenia.