Why are neurons susceptible to Zika virus?

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Science  07 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6346, pp. 33-34
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8626

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Flaviviruses are plus-strand RNA viruses that cause a variety of human diseases, from encephalomyelitis, hepatitis, and hemorrhagic fever to congenital abnormalities. These pathologies reflect different target tissues for virus infection. Zika virus, a flavivirus, shows a tropism for neural progenitor cells, but a detailed understanding of this tendency for infection is not yet well understood. On page 83 of this issue, Chavali et al. (1) report that a specific region of Zika's RNA genome binds to an RNA-binding protein called Musashi-1 (MSI1), which is highly expressed in neural progenitor cells. These progenitors are precursors for neurons and astrocytes (2), cells required for cortical development. The interaction between Zika viral RNA and MSI1 may explain why these precursor cells are targets for infection (see the figure).