How the Zika Virus Works

8x11-ZikaENGThe Zika virus was much in the news this past summer.  The virus remains active in more than 70 countries.

There are two strains of the virus, Asian and African.  The Asian strain is associated with microcephaly, symptoms of which include “a small brain and head, developmental delays, seizures, vision and hearing loss and feeding difficulty.”(1)

Researchers at the University of Texas at Galveston have discovered that the Asian virus affects brain stem cells and their ability to survive, mature and develop nerve cells in the brain.  This discovery was based on examination of donated human brain tissue.

These researchers have also discovered that there are variations between individuals in their ability to cope with the virus.  The next steps in research will be to understand what causes these variations and whether there is a way to block the ability of the virus to attack stem cells.

This report reemphasizes the importance of donations of organs and tissue to scientific research as well as for transplant.


  1. University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. “Scientists uncover how Zika virus causes microcephaly: The findings are key to unraveling the mysteries of why the Zika virus causes birth defects.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 February 2017. <>.
  2. Erica L. McGrath, Shannan L. Rossi, Junling Gao, Steven G. Widen, Auston C. Grant, Tiffany J. Dunn, Sasha R. Azar, Christopher M. Roundy, Ying Xiong, Deborah J. Prusak, Bradford D. Loucas, Thomas G. Wood, Yongjia Yu, Ildefonso Fernández-Salas, Scott C. Weaver, Nikos Vasilakis, Ping Wu. Differential Responses of Human Fetal Brain Neural Stem Cells to Zika Virus Infection. Stem Cell Reports, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2017.01.008

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