Oily molecules key to Zika virus replication, infection

A CDC-trained disease detective conducts a Zika case investigation

Zika virus emerged as a threat to global health in 2016 when it was linked to a spike in cases of microcephaly in newborns. In a modest rehearsal of what we’ve seen with SARS-CoV-2 research, there was a surge of interest to understand the basic biology of this virus in the scientific community.  — Fikadu Tafesse, Ph.D., assistant professor, Molecular Microbiology & Immunology, School of Medicine, “Behind the Paper,” Nature Research Microbiology Community.

Certain fat-based molecules required for Zika virus infection in human cells could provide clues to why the virus primarily infects brain tissue, particularly in a developing fetus or newborn.

See the full press release, Fat-Based Molecules are Key to Zika Virus Infection, on PNNL’s website.

Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory identified sphingolipids as crucial to Zika virus replication in human cells. These “oily” molecules are crucial components of many cellular structures, including cell membranes.

The findings are detailed in “A global lipid map defines a network essential for Zika virus replication,“ published July 21, 2020, in Nature Communications.

There is currently no treatment or vaccine for Zika virus. However, molecules that modulate cellular production of those lipids might be targets to develop potential therapeutic interventions for Zika infection, the researchers said.

This work is part of an ongoing collaboration between PNNL and OHSU called the Precision Medicine Innovation Co-Laboratory, or PMedIC.

Image above: A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-trained disease detective conducts a Zika case investigation in a Guinea-Bissau community. Photo courtesy of the CDC