The Zika virus has been linked with microcephaly in human babies, and has also – more tentatively – been linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), but until now was not thought likely to affect the adult population beyond minor short-term symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, vomiting and headaches.
Recent research on mice genetically engineered to have an immune deficiency to the Zika virus indicates that this virus may cause long-term damage in mammalian brain regions where new brain cells are produced (neurogenesis).
“The researchers found that Zika virus was concentrated in the two sections of the brain where there is active cell division in adult mice. These were the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the anterior forebrain and the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the hippocampus”.
Evidence of pronounced Zika infection in these two brain areas appears to result in an increase in cell death and reduced cell division, in mice at least.
More research is required before assessing the potential implications for humans; such as any long-term neurological damage resulting in a likely adverse impact on memory and thinking skills, superficially not dissimilar to Alzheimer’s Disease.
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Animal research suggests Zika could affect the adult brain. London: NHS Choices; Behind the Headlines, August 19th 2016.
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Li, H. Saucedo-Cuevas, L. [and] Regla-Nava, JA. [et al] (2016). Zika virus infects neural progenitors in the adult mouse brain and alters proliferation. Cell Stem Cell. November 3rd 2016. 19, pp.1-6. [Epub ahead of print; August 18th 2016].