One small change in a protein in 2013 could have led to surge in microcephaly
A single genetic mutation made the Zika virus far more dangerous by enhancing its ability to kill nerve cells in developing brains, a new study suggests.
The small change — which tweaks just one amino acid in a protein that helps Zika exit cells — may cause microcephaly, researchers report September 28 in Science. The mutation arose around May 2013, shortly before a Zika outbreak in French Polynesia, the researchers calculate.
Zika virus was discovered decades ago but wasn’t associated with microcephaly — a birth defect characterized by a small head and brain — until the 2015–2016 outbreak in Brazil. Women who had contracted the virus while pregnant started giving birth to babies with the condition at higher-than-usual rates (SN: 4/2/16, p. 26