BALTIMORE, April 23 (UPI) — Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland have zeroed in on how the Zika virus attacks brain cells in developing fetuses.
To do so, they have created “mini-brains” using 3-D printers and infected them with the Zika virus to better understand the disease, which has hit South America and is spread mostly through mosquito bites.
Zika, which causes children of infected women to be born with underdeveloped brains, has thus far baffled scientists trying to come up with a vaccine for the virus, which the World Health Organization has deemed a global public health emergency.
A study published in the journal Cell reveals how the virus attacks developing brain cells. In the “mini-brains” — no larger than the head of a pin and meant to mimic a fetus early in the first trimester — the Zika virus attacked neural progenitor cells, the cells that allow the brain to continue growing.
In larger brain models meant to mimic the second trimester, the virus continued to attack neural progenitor cells, but also began attacking some neurons, as well. The end result is slower brain growth and an underdeveloped cortex, the outer layer of the brain that governs perception, attention and memory.