Pathogenesis of congenital Zika virus infection and sequelae in offspring

A: Zika virus- positive cells (brow staining) in the placenta B: Zika virus-positive cells (brown staining) in the fetal brain

Project Team: Uladzimir Karniychuk (Visiting Scientist)

Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that is linked to a variety of disorders including microcephaly (incomplete brain development) and small for gestational age (SGA) phenotype. The disease is an important public health concern in Latin America, and of great concern to travelers visiting these countries. Indeed, numerous nations have reported ZIKV infections including the US and Canada, mainly in individuals that have visited regions endemic for the disease. With confirmation of sexual transmission, ZIKV has an alarming potential for further global spread.

Massive global efforts are currently underway to understand the pathogenesis of the disease, its transmission, as well as to develop vaccines and therapeutics for disease prevention. We were the first group in the world to describe novel animal models for ZIKV in neonatal and fetal pigs. Pigs have close similarities in anatomy, physiology, immunity and fetal development with humans and thus can serve as an animal model for many human infections. Currently, we are using our models to understand pathogenesis of congenital ZIKV infection and the long-term health sequelae in offspring, and to test novel interventions that can be used to prevent fetal infection and disease outcomes.