SAN FRANCISCO — Zika causes fetal brain cells neighboring an infected cell to commit suicide, David Doobin of Columbia University Medical Center reported December 6 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. In work with mice and rats, Doobin and colleagues found hints that the cell death might be the body’s attempt to limit the virus’ spread.
The scientists applied techniques they had used to investigate a genetic cause of microcephaly to narrow when in pregnancy the virus is most likely to cause the brain to shrink. Timing of the virus’s effect varied by strain. For one from Puerto Rico, brain cell die-off happened in mice only in the first two trimesters. But a strain from Honduras could kill developing brain cells later in pregnancy.