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Understanding Zika
16 August 2017

Understanding Zika

It’s relatively harmless to most of us, but can be devastating to pregnant women. Zika virus has sparked worldwide fear by causing birth defects in children. For example, the mosquito-borne menace can cause microcephaly: babies with abnormally small heads, usually housing incompletely-formed brains. Exactly why the virus takes hold in the brains of vulnerable children before they’ve even been born was something of a mystery, but new research is pointing towards an explanation: Zika binds to a particular protein in the developing brain called Musashi 1 (red in the human embryo brain pictured 10 weeks after conception). Musashi 1 is very common in the budding brain and is normally a starting point for new brain cells. When Zika hones in and latches on, it commandeers Musashi 1’s skills to help replicate itself, growing ever-stronger at the expense of its host, depriving the brain of a crucial construction tool.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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