Updated
September 25th, 2019

How and When Does Zika Infect the Brain?

Zika virus attacks human brain endothelial cells

Researchers found that the Zika Virus (ZIKV) persistently infects brain cells that normally protect neurons from viral exposure.

The researchers found the Zika virus can hide, and then replicate in endothelial cells, before they are released basolaterally. This enables a direct method for Zika to cross the blood-brain barrier.

This action occurs within the first 9 days of Zika infection, the authors reported.

This study’s findings could help explain why fetuses exposed to maternal Zika have so many congenital disorders, such as microcephaly.

Additionally, these results reveal that human brain microvascular ECs (hBMECs) act as a reservoir of persistent ZIKV replication.

ZIKV constitutively induces and evades antiviral responses to continuously replicate in hBMECs. As a result, hBMECs provide a protective niche for systemic ZIKV spread and a viral reservoir localized in the normally protective blood-brain barrier.

This research’s findings define hBMEC responses that contribute to persistent ZIKV infection and potential targets for clearing ZIKV infections from hBMECs. These results further suggest roles for additional ZIKV-infected ECs to facilitate viral spread and persistence in the protected placental, retinal, and testicular compartments.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that prenatal testing is the most valuable tool with potential Zika exposure.

Where you live, your travel history, and the travel history of your sex partner can affect your chances of getting Zika.

The CDC reports possible exposure to Zika virus includes:

  • travel to or residence in an area at risk for Zika virus transmission and with a CDC travel notice, or,
  • condomless sexual exposure to a partner who traveled to or lived in an area with risk of Zika virus transmission

This article is a direct contribution from a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Solicited external reviewers: Christopher Basler, Georgia State University; Sujan Shresta, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.

These researchers did not disclose any conflicts of interest:  Megan C. Mladinicn; John Schwedes; Erich R. Mackow

Citation Mladinich MC, Schwedes J, Mackow ER. 2017. Zika virus persistently infects and is basolaterally released from primary human brain microvascular endothelial cells. mBio 8:e00952-17