According to US researchers, the mosquito borne virus infects and damages developing brain tissue, affecting the growth of neural progenitor cells, which build the brain and nervous system.
The researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used lab-grown human stem cells to identify in less than a month that the virus selectively infected cells forming the brain’s cortex. This new finding, adds weight to claims that Zika is causing brain abnormalities in babies.However, the results remain inconclusive as to whether the virus actually causes microcephaly in babies.
“One of the major reasons why this is a global emergency is because of the suspected link of microcephaly and Zika virus. However, it’s very difficult to study that in humans because what is missing is a model system where we can address causality,’‘ said neurology and neuroscience Professor Hongjun Song.
The virus is said to affect a particular cell. Small indefinite amounts of the virus have also been found in the bodily fluids and tissue of babies affected by microcephaly.
“What we found here is actually the first evidence that there is a target cell that the Zika virus can infect. And there’s an indication because these cells are generating the other cells to populate the brain, that means there’s a potential link,” said Guo-li Ming, a professor of neurology, neuroscience, and psychiatry and behavioral science at Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Cell Engineering.
There have been more than 4,800 confirmed and suspected cases of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil.