2016 brought to public consciousness a new threat to humanity, arriving on the wings of mosquitoes: Zika virus (WHO, 2018a). Symptoms are mild for most of those infected, but the truly insidious and headline-making aspect to the disease is what happens to pregnant women. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 5-15% of children born to Zika-infected women suffer serious complications, including dramatically small heads and incomplete brain development.

The fear surrounding Zika virus was understandably palpable. Doctors alerted their patients and paid extra close attention to those who may have been exposed. Pregnant women chose to remain indoors to avoid being bitten by the mosquitos that transmit the virus (Cohen, 2016).

In February of 2016, the WHO declared Zika a global health emergency. WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, called for an increase in research to develop the means to treat or prevent the disease (WHO, 2018b). Among the teams who heard the call, a group in Canada used SomaLogic® technology to get a better understanding of how Zika wreaks havoc on its host.

To get an initial baseline on the biological havoc, the researchers used vero cell (a type of monkey cell used to test antiviral treatments) to determine what happens during the first 48-hours of infection (Glover, Gao, Zahedi-Amiri, & Coombs, 2019). From the data, the team saw the Zika virus alter the levels of immune-response proteins, proteins involved in initiating protein production, and proteins involved with cellular communications. The group even saw Zika sharing protein profile similarities with Dengue-2 and West Nile Virus. At the end of the study, the group uncovered a series of protein changes that could show how Zika infects is different and that could potentially serve as prognostic markers.

Because the monkey cells cannot truly mimic the human immune response, the team looked at how Zika infects astrocytes, one of the most abundant cells in the human central nervous system (Sher, Glover, & Coombs, 2019). Using the same SomaLogic® technology, the team saw just how profoundly Zika could alter the normal biology of the astrocytes, which could explain all the neurodevelopmental problems. The team also gained insight into how the immune system may react to the infection.

Where did all this proteomic work get us? It is hoped that the biological insight gleaned from analyzing the proteins may aid in directing the scientific and medical communities to new ways to treat, monitor and hopefully prevent the spread of this frightening new threat.

 

References

Cohen, E. (2016, August 22) Pregnant Obstetrician Faces Zika Firsthand. CNN. Retrieved on June 26, 2019 from https://www.cnn.com/2016/08/22/health/zika-pregnant-florida-obstetrician-karla-maguire/index.html.

Glover, K. K. M., Gao, A., Zahedi-Amiri, A., & Coombs, K. M. (2019). Vero Cell Proteomic Changes Induced by Zika Virus Infection. Proteomics, 19(4), e1800309. doi:10.1002/pmic.201800309

Sher, A. A., Glover, K. K. M., & Coombs, K. M. (2019). Zika Virus Infection Disrupts Astrocytic Proteins Involved in Synapse Control and Axon Guidance. Front Microbiol, 10, 596. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2019.00596

World Health Organization (WHO) (2018a, July 20). Zika Virus. Retrieved on June 26, 2019 from https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/zika-virus.

World Health Organization (WHO) (2018b, July 23). Progress Toward Discovery of Zika Virus Vaccines and Therapeutics. Retrieved on June 26, 2019 from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/zika/discovery-of-vaccines/en/.