Research highlight

Infectious disease: Antibody treatment may protect unborn mice from Zika virus infection


November 8, 2016

A new antibody therapy may prevent fetal damage in pregnant mice infected with the Zika virus, a Nature paper suggests. Owing to differences in gestational features between mice and humans, further studies are needed to determine whether the findings can be translated to the clinic, but it is hoped that the discovery will help to inform vaccine design efforts.

Zika virus infection is known to cause neurological problems including Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults and microcephaly in unborn children. In February 2016, this prompted the World Health Organization to declare the current epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

James Crowe and colleagues isolated human antibodies from the white blood cells of people who had previously been infected with Zika virus, then focused on one that seemed particularly potent in preliminary tests. They tested the antibody in a mouse model of Zika virus infection. In separate experiments, pregnant mice received the treatment either before or after viral infection. In both cases, viral load was reduced in mother and unborn offspring, there was less damage to the placenta and fetuses were bigger.

The results hint that the treatment might be useful both as a preventative measure and also after an animal has been infected with the virus. This evidence showing that anti-viral therapy can prevent or control Zika virus infection in pregnancy in mice highlights the possibility of meaningful interventions during this time.

doi: 10.1038/nature20564

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