Study uncovers key elements of Zika virus impacts on immune systems

Doctor with stethoscope
Valley News - Health

The mosquito-borne Zika virus can defeat a person’s immune system by drilling into the cellular defenses needed to combat diseases, according to research by a pair scientest from University of California Riverside.

Jikui Song, biochemistry professor of University of California Riverside, and virologist Rong Hai were joined by researchers from University of California Los Angeles in producing a study on Zika virus’s microlevel interactions, published in the most recent edition of Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

Key elements of the research spotlighted how Zika pathogens damage a person’s immune response by penetrating defender cells known as interferons.

“Suppressing host immunity is a common strategy employed by viruses to achieve successful infection,” Song said.

According to the researchers, after Zika virus cells – known as ZIKVs – achieve dominance over the interferons, they become deformed proteins known as ZIKV NS5s, which impact other proteins, specifically STAT2s, causing a series of failures within a host’s immune system that can leave the patient with little natural disease-fighting resistance.

“Understanding the interaction, at the molecular level, between ZIKV … and the host immune factor STAT2, opens up a new window for the rational design of live attenuated vaccines and antivirals,” Hai said. “Targeting the virus-host interaction may also provide an important approach for drug development against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”

The last recorded outbreak of Zika virus worldwide occurred in 2016 and 2017, with mosquito-transmitted infections reported in parts of Florida and Texas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The only infections in California involved people who had traveled to foreign countries and became sick, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Zika virus is carried by the same mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti, that transmit Chikungunya and dengue, better known as “yellow fever.” Like mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus, Aedes aegypti must first feed on a host that’s infected before they can pass on the disease, according to health officials.

Zika virus additionally can be spread through blood transfusions and sexual contact, according to the CDC. Some people can host the virus without exhibiting symptoms, which include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle soreness and headaches.

Pregnant women are at highest risk, because their newborns can suffer exposure-related deformities.