Killer mosquitoes, the unborn at risk

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New Mechanism linking mosquito-borne virus infection to Brain Development in Infants Identified

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Non the now well-known SARS-CoV2 was enough to generate distrust of viruses and their ability to infect the human being causing not a little damage to the body, now a new study has revealed the mechanisms through which the Zika virustransmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, can damage the brain development of unborn babies.

The discovery comes from one research conducted at the Institute of Neuroscience of the National Research Council (Cnr-In) and at the University of Pisa and published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

Congenital Zika syndrome was first described in 2015 in Brazil in some newborns whose mothers had contracted the infection during pregnancy. During the gestation period, the Zika virus had in fact crossed the placental barrier cause serious injuries the central nervous system of the unborn child, including microcephaly and other pathologies of brain development.

To understand how the Zika virus can cause these alterations, the researchers used an innovative human neural stem cell system. Starting from the intuition that the congenital Zika syndrome has strong similarities with the FO sindrome G1 syndrome, which causes a congenital developmental disorder without treatment and a serious mental retardation, however long studied by the Cnr-In research group, it has been seen that the virus Zika alters both the amount and intracellular localization of FOG protein protagonist of development of the cerebral cortex.

The latter is in fact the most evolved part of our brain and ensures man cognitive abilities, perception of himself and the surrounding world. The correct size and architecture of the cerebral cortex is acquired during embryonic development in a process that represents perhaps one of the most complex, delicate and intimate aspects of the human being.

“The fact that the number of children with congenital Zika syndrome had increased suddenly and that there were cases of infection in various states of the world and then that the virus could be transmitted from one vector mosquito present on all continents, it created a worldwide alarm that recalled in some ways the recent SARS-CoV-2 pandemic”, say Giulia Freer and Mauro Pistello of the Retrovirus Center of the University of Pisa and co-authors of the study.

“Human neural stem cells represent a study model that allows to recapitulate in vitro early events of the development of our brain and its dysfunctions, which otherwise would not be easily observable”, adds Marco Onorati, director of the NeuroStemCell Lab at the Department of Biology of the University of Pisa.

“For the first time, this work identifies FOG G1 as a factor sensitive to Zika virus, explaining many aspects of microcephaly and cognitive delays caused by this viral infection and looking ahead we could use FOG G1 as a sensor to reveal any other ‘attacks’ suffered during embryonic development and to understand the mechanisms underlying pathologies such as cortical malformations, autism and schizophrenia”, concludes Mario Costa, Cnr-In researcher and corresponding author of the publication.

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