March 7, 2016
(Science) – As fear of the Zika virus spreads nearly as quickly as the pathogen itself, two new laboratory studies offer the first solid evidence for how it could cause brain defects in babies: The virus appears to preferentially kill developing brain cells. The observation bolsters the growing case for a connection between the virus, which is spreading rapidly across Latin America, and an increase in the number of cases of microcephaly, a birth defect in which the brain fails to grow properly. The new work, done independently by two groups, shows that the virus readily infects neural stem cells—the precursors of neurons and other brain cells—whether they are grown on cell culture plates or coaxed to form 3D minibrains called cerebral organoids.
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