How Zika became the prime suspect in microcephaly mystery | Science News

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How Zika became the prime suspect in microcephaly mystery

Virus can damage cells key for developing brains

By
7:00am, March 18, 2016
baby with microcephaly

SIZING UP  A doctor measures the head circumference of a baby girl in Brazil. The measurement can offer a quick way to gauge whether a newborn has microcephaly, a birth defect that leaves babies with underdeveloped heads and brains. 

The prime suspect in Brazil’s recent surge in birth defects may be convicted this summer, in the sweltering cities of Colombia.

That’s when the first big wave of pregnant women infected with Zika virus last fall will begin to give birth. Whether or not these babies are born with shrunken brains, a condition known as microcephaly, may offer the best evidence yet of  Zika’s guilt — or innocence.

While the world waits, molecular evidence is starting to come in. Zika virus readily infects (and kills) one kind of brain cell found in developing embryos, researchers reported online March 4 in Cell Stem Cell. “It’s the first step to show that Zika is actually doing something in the brain,” says study coauthor Guo-Li Ming, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Previous studies have found traces of Zika in some damaged fetal brains, but that’s just a correlation.

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