Research ResourceMetabolism

Molecular alterations in the extracellular matrix in the brains of newborns with congenital Zika syndrome

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Science Signaling  09 Jun 2020:
Vol. 13, Issue 635, eaay6736
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aay6736

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How Zika affects the extracellular matrix

In some cases, Zika virus (ZIKV) infection during pregnancy leads to a series of severe defects in the fetus collectively known as congenital Zika syndrome (CZS). These include microcephaly, defective neuronal migration, and impaired cortical development. Aguiar et al. combined genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic analyses of blood and postmortem brains and demonstrated that ZIKV-infected neonates showed a reduction in collagen expression and an increase in adhesion factor expression, alterations in the extracellular matrix consistent with the brain defects seen in CZS. Together, these datasets form a useful resource for those investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying CZS in humans.


Zika virus (ZIKV) infection during pregnancy can cause a set of severe abnormalities in the fetus known as congenital Zika syndrome (CZS). Experiments with animal models and in vitro systems have substantially contributed to our understanding of the pathophysiology of ZIKV infection. Here, to investigate the molecular basis of CZS in humans, we used a systems biology approach to integrate transcriptomic, proteomic, and genomic data from the postmortem brains of neonates with CZS. We observed that collagens were greatly reduced in expression in CZS brains at both the RNA and protein levels and that neonates with CZS had several single-nucleotide polymorphisms in collagen-encoding genes that are associated with osteogenesis imperfecta and arthrogryposis. These findings were validated by immunohistochemistry and comparative analysis of collagen abundance in ZIKV-infected and uninfected samples. In addition, we showed a ZIKV-dependent increase in the expression of cell adhesion factors that are essential for neurite outgrowth and axon guidance, findings that are consistent with the neuronal migration defects observed in CZS. Together, these findings provide insights into the underlying molecular alterations in the ZIKV-infected brain and reveal host genes associated with CZS susceptibility.

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