Zika virus has been hitting the headlines in the recent times due to its link with several diseases affecting the central nervous system.
Now, in a shocking discovery, researchers have found that Zika virus might not only infect fetal brain cells but adult cells too. Invasion of zika virus into the brains of adults can lead to long-term memory loss like Alzheimer’s disease.
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne infection that can be transmitted from one person to another through the bite of an infected Aedes ageypti mosquito.
In recent years, the virus has been reported to spread ferociously in the Latin America. Brazil has reported the highest number of Zika cases till date with the United States in the midst of an epidemic.
The virus can infect pregnant women and cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, which leads to the birth of babies with smaller heads and brain abnormalities. It has also been linked to an autoimmune disorder; Guillian Barre Syndrome, where the body’s immune cells attack its own nervous cells, leading to muscle weakness and paralysis.
Zika can also cause serious infections in the central nervous system such as encephalitis, meningitis and myelitis.
As studies have reported that Zika virus can infect only fetal brain cells, the risk of infection in adults was minimal. But a study by Joseph Gleeson and his colleagues from the Rockefeller University has proved that zika can infect adults too.
They examined whether Zika virus can infect adult brain cells by testing it on adult mice. By using mouse models to mimic the zika infection in adults and fluorescent biomarkers they found that the virus can attack parts of the brain responsible for learning and memory. The effect is similar to Alzheimer’s disease where cells in the hippocampus region of the brain get damaged.
The authors cautioned that experts must not think zika virus is innocuous in adults and should consider monitoring the virus in all individuals. As far as the study goes, adults with weakened immunity have a higher risk of zika virus infection and long-term memory damage.