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Early Intervention

How Zika virus prevents normal brain development once neural progenitor cells are infected

06 June 2023

Early Intervention

When Zika virus crosses the placenta to infect a foetus in a pregnant woman, it attacks life before it’s had a chance to establish itself, like squashing a seed before planting it. In particular, the virus infects starter cells for the nervous system, neural progenitor cells, thus causing wide-reaching developmental problems down the line. To investigate how these impacts take hold, researchers examined these cells in the lab, and focused on a protein called UPF1, which manages mRNA – transcripts of genes being expressed. Infected cells have less UPF1 and the researchers saw that as a result, transcripts (red) become stuck in the cell nucleus (blue) in cells infected with Zika (green, right), compared to uninfected (left). This reduces the production of proteins from those transcripts, such as one called FREM2, required to maintain and determine the identity of neural progenitor cells, and so hinders healthy development from the start.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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