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Connection between the Zika Virus and Microcephaly

Group of Zika viruses in damaged brain cell (Transmission electron microscope - 120 kV Jeol JEM 1400Plus) Image by Mateja Poljšak Prijatelj and Marko Kolenc

Publish Date: 05.12.2016

Category: Outstanding research achievements, Interdisciplinary research, Our contribution to sustainable development goals

Sustainable development goals: 3 Good health and well-being (Indicators)

Discovery of the first scientific evidence that the Zika virus infects the foetus brain through the infected mother was delivered by researchers from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ljubljana.

Authors: Tatjana Avšič Županc, Jernej Mlakar, Miša Korva, Nataša Tul Mandić, Maša Popović, Mateja Poljšak Prijatelj, Jerica Mraz, Marko Kolenc, Katarina Resman Rus, Tina Vesnaver Vipotnik, Vesna Fabjan Vodušek, dr. Alenka Vizjak, dr. Jože Pižem, dr. Miroslav Petrovec  

On 10 February 2016, researchers from the Faculty of Medicine in Ljubljana (Tatjana Avšič Županc, Miša Korva, Mara Popović, Mateja Poljšak Prijatelj, Jerica Mraz, Marko Kolenc, Katarina Resman Rus, Alenka Vizjak, Jože Pižem, Miroslav Petrovec) published a breakthrough research paper proving that the Zika virus from the infected mother can infect the fetal's brain and can cause permanent brain damage and microcephaly.

The research is based on one example of a pregnant woman living in Brazil who suffered from fever with rash at the end of the first trimester. The mother requested termination of pregnancy when the ultrasound determined that the fetal was no longer growing and showed severe brain anomalies in the brain in the 32nd week of pregnancy. The autopsy confirmed severe microcephaly and absence of brain folds. The brain samples showed high load of Zika virus and an absence of other possible pathogens. Electron microscopy found virus-like cells with the flavivirus in the brain and determined the nucleotide sequence of the whole Zika virus genome. The results of this research give the first most compelling evidence that these central nervous malformations (microcephaly) are associated with Zika virus infection during pregnancy as a consequence of viral replication in the fetal brain.

Source: Mlakar J, Korva M, Tul N, Popović M, Poljšak-Prijatelj M, Mraz J, Kolenc M, Resman Rus K, Vesnaver Vipotnik T, Fabjan Vodušek V, Vizjak A, Pižem J, Petrovec M, Avšič Županc T, Zika Virus Associated with Microcephaly. N Engl J Med 2016; 374:951-8.

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