Zika hijacks host cells’ skeleton, persists in a wide range of tissues for weeks

By Giorgia Guglielmi



Three-dimensional representation of Zika virus. The virus reshapes host cells’ skeleton and persists in the body for weeks, new studies show.
Image credit: Manuel Almagro Rivas/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)


Scientists moved one step closer to understanding how Zika virus takes hold of host cells, and where and for how long it lurks inside the body.

A new study, published in Cell Reports, showed that Zika reshapes the cell’s skeleton to fortify hollow structures where it makes daughter viruses. When scientists used a drug that makes the cell’s structural fibers immovable, the virus was unable to make copies of itself. These drugs might provide a therapeutic option against Zika.

To develop new Zika therapies, it’s crucial to know where and when the virus is present within the organism. To address this issue, researchers studied Zika’s spread in infected macaques. The results are detailed in PLOS Pathogens.

Zika infected a wide range of tissues, including peripheral nervous system, joints, and muscles, and it persisted in those tissues up to five weeks. What’s more, Zika was found in the reproductive tract of infected animals. The virus’ persistence in reproductive organs might be key to its sexual transmission. It could also explain why Zika infection during pregnancy is associated with crippling birth defects such as abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly.


Giorgia Guglielmi is a graduate student in the MIT Program in Science Writing and a freelance science journalist based in Cambridge, MA. She received a PhD in Biology from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, where she studied how embryos get their final shape.


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