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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Cellular, Molecular Mechanisms of Zika Revealed, Yale Research Finding

Zika remains a global health emergency, and of particularly urgent concern for pregnant women: infants born to women who contract Zika during pregnancy run a risk, as high as 42 percent, of developing birth defects. For others who are infected, the severity of the disease varies broadly. The biological reasons behind this variation in the clinical outcome and severity of Zika remain largely unknown.

A major scientific collaboration including the Yale School of Public Health has shed some light on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of Zika, and its connection to other vector-borne diseases. The study, published in Cell, reveals that a history of dengue, another mosquito-borne infection in the same genus as Zika, could alter a patient’s response and susceptibility to the similar Zika virus.

The team examined samples from 400 donors in Brazil and Mexico, both areas which experience high rates of Zika infection, and found a correlation between donor’s antibodies derived from dengue infection and a high neutralizing response to Zika. The study was also able to identify and isolate the specific antibodies that correlate to neutralization of dengue virus I and Zika virus, and their structures were solved.

“This finding can be a potential help for future prevention methods,” said Associate Research Scientist Dr. Elsio Wunder. The study was the result of a collaboration between Yale and researchers at Rockefeller University in New York, California Institute of Technology, the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases in Mexico City, and the Universidade Federal da Bahia in Salvador, Brazil.

“The cellular and molecular experiments conducted by the Rockefeller University team, essential for the major findings of the manuscript, wouldn’t be possible without all the great team effort done in the communities in Brazil and Mexico to enroll and obtain clinical information from all the individuals,” said Dr. Wunder.

The study also built upon previous work done in Salvador, Brazil, by co-collaborator Dr. Albert Ko, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at YSPH. Data collected by Dr. Ko’s group in Pau da Lima, a low-income area in Salvador particularly hard hit by Zika, provided the team with information before and after the onset of Zika virus in the community. Other Yale collaborators included Dr. Federico Costa, visiting research scientist; Dr. Mitermayer Reid, adjunct professor; and assistant professor Dr. Daniel Weinberger.