Zika suppresses virus-fighting cells: study

July 5, 2018, Florida State University

More than two years after reports of skyrocketing Zika rates surfaced worldwide, questions still loom about this complicated virus.

Florida State University researchers are one step closer to finding answers.

In an article published today in the journal Stem Cell Reports, Professor of Biological Science Hengli Tang and his postdoctoral researcher Jianshe Lang take a deep dive into the differences between Zika and the Dengue virus.

On the surface, these viruses are very similar—they are both delivered by mosquito and their genetic material is organized similarly. Yet, Zika is much more effective at penetrating the body's natural barriers against infections and leaves behind a trail of devastating effects on infected fetuses.

"We were really looking at one specific aspect," Tang said. "Does Zika virus get to more sites because of the ability to disseminate through the body better than Dengue?"

Tang and Lang found Zika has a unique ability to ferry the virus throughout the body when most viruses would be stopped.

It all has to do with a type of immune cell called a macrophage.

These warriors of the immune system basically engulf any type of foreign substance—cellular debris, cancer cells, microbes—that don't make the proper proteins consistent with healthy body cells. Macrophages typically float throughout the bloodstream and when a virus invades, they flock to the site of the disease to fight it. That's what happens when Dengue enters the body. It's not, however, what happens when Zika enters the body, researchers found.

Researchers grew from stem cells in Tang's lab. They then exposed these cells to either the Zika virus or the Dengue virus. The macrophages were then subjected to a test that measured the mobility of the infected .

Professor of Biological Science Hengli Tang has worked extensively on the Zika virus. Credit: Bill Lax/FSU

In the Dengue experiment, the macrophages were essentially immobilized as they stayed in one spot to fight the infection. The ones infected with Zika virus, however, maintained their ability to migrate on glass slides.

That could be why the Zika virus is so effective, Tang said. In a mammal, the Zika-laden macrophages would have continued to float through the bloodstream.

"They're hitching a ride on macrophages to other parts of the body," Tang said.

Furthermore, Tang said, it appears that the Zika virus is actively suppressing the macrophage's ability to carry out its typical duties in fighting disease.

"Now the question is, with the increased ability to spread throughout the body, does Zika virus also use these infected macrophages to cross the placenta barrier, the blood-brain barrier and the testicular barrier?" Tang said. "If you understand how they cross these barriers, then you can develop more effective countermeasures to protect people."

Though Zika was discovered in 1947, little was known about how the virus worked when reports surfaced of a surge in cases worldwide in late 2015. Researchers and medical professionals rushed to learn as much as they could about the virus, but many questions remain as to how the actually functions. Tang and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University were the first group of researchers to officially link Zika to microcephaly, a brain abnormality that occurs in developing fetuses.

Explore further: Zika virus: Five things to know

Related Stories

Zika virus: Five things to know

February 8, 2016
A concise "Five things to know about.... Zika virus infection" article for physicians highlights key points about this newly emerged virus in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Research provides clues to how Zika virus breaches the placental barrier

September 15, 2016
New research reveals that in pregnant women, Zika virus infection damages certain cells that affect placental formation and function. Furthermore, herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2) infection augments placental sensitivity to ...

Zika virus infects human neural stem cells

March 4, 2016
The Zika virus infects a type of neural stem cell that gives rise to the brain's cerebral cortex, Johns Hopkins and Florida State researchers report March 4 in Cell Stem Cell. On laboratory dishes, these stem cells were found ...

Scientists track Zika virus transmission in mice

August 3, 2017
National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists have developed a mouse model to study Zika virus transmitted sexually from males to females, as well as vertically from a pregnant female to her fetus. They are using the model ...

Zika-related nerve damage caused by immune response to the virus

November 20, 2017
The immune system's response to the Zika virus, rather than the virus itself, may be responsible for nerve-related complications of infection, according to a Yale study. This insight could lead to new ways of treating patients ...

Prior dengue or yellow fever exposure does not worsen Zika infection in monkeys

August 4, 2017
Rhesus macaques previously infected with dengue or yellow fever viruses appear to be neither more nor less susceptible to severe infection with Zika virus, according to new research published in PLOS Pathogens.

Recommended for you

Deadly Rift Valley fever: New insight, and hope for the future

July 19, 2018
Health control measures alone could be ineffective in the long term fight against the deadly Rift Valley fever which affects both humans and animals, a new study in the journal PNAS reports.

Yeast species used in food industry causes disease in humans

July 19, 2018
A major cause of drug-resistant clinical yeast infections is the same species previously regarded as non-pathogenic and commonly used in the biotechnology and food industries. The study, published on July 19th in the open-access ...

New guidelines to diagnose, manage rare endocrine disorders

July 19, 2018
International guidelines have been published for the first time to help doctors around the globe diagnose and manage patients with a very rare set of endocrine diseases known as pseudohypoparathyroidism and its related disorders, ...

Overuse of antibiotics not what the doctor ordered

July 19, 2018
With increased use of antibiotics worldwide linked to growing antibiotic resistance, a world-first study co-authored by a QUT researcher has highlighted the growing impact of non-prescription supply of antibiotics in community ...

Alcohol-related cirrhosis deaths skyrocket in young adults

July 18, 2018
Deaths from cirrhosis rose in all but one state between 1999-2016, with increases seen most often among young adults, a new study shows.

Childhood abuse linked to greater risk of endometriosis, study finds

July 17, 2018
Endometriosis, a painful condition that affects one in 10 reproductive-age women in the U.S., has been linked to childhood physical and sexual abuse, according to findings published today in the journal Human Reproduction.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.