Emory researchers were part of a recent advance in understanding how the Zika virus harms the developing brain. The research was published March 4 inÂ Cell Stem Cell.Â
Emory geneticist Peng Jin and his colleagues were part of a rapidly assembled research team, including scientists from Johns Hopkins and Florida State University, that showed the Zika virus can infect neural progenitor cells critical for brain development.
The research suggests a potential explanation for the cases of microcephaly seen in Latin America during the Zika outbreak. While it does not prove the direct link between Zika and microcephaly, it is a first step that shows where the virus may be doing the most damage.
The team showed that the Zika virus infects a type of neural stem cell that gives rise to the brainâ€™s cerebral cortex. The researchers used neural progenitor cells, formed from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The scientists showed that the virus infects neural progenitor cells more readily than iPSCs or immature neurons.
The role of Jin’s lab was to analyze how the patterns of gene activity in neuronal cells were altered by Zika infection. Jin reports the team is continuing to examine the differences between the effects of Zika and other related viruses such as dengue and West Nile.
In addition, Lab Land recently learned that one of the scientists from Johns Hopkins, Zhexing Wen, was recruited to Emory as faculty and will start in June. His research won’t be all about Zika — in Guo-li Ming’s lab, Wen gained experience using iPSCs to model complex brain disorders such as schizophrenia.According to cell biology chair Gary Bassell, Wen’s primary appointment will be in psychiatry, with secondary appointments in cell biology and neurology. In addition, his expertise will aid the Laboratory for Translational Cell Biology‘s work with iPSCs.