A new study by researchers at Keck School of Medicine of USC finds that Zika virus is linked to high risk of miscarriages, congenital birth defects and suppressing the immune system of a pregnant woman, thus allowing the virus to spread further and increase the chances of birth defect or harm to an unborn baby.
According to reports, the researchers discovered that the disease stifles the weakened immune system of a pregnant woman and then cause harm to the baby. It is reported by Science Daily that the lead author of the research Suan-Sin Foo said the findings of the new study is an active step towards improving the condition of pregnant women that are infected with Zika virus and their unborn babies.
The report added that senior author of the study, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Keck School of Medicine, Jae Jung said the research is the first to discover that the virus targets certain white blood cells in the body of Zika-infected pregnant women, thereby suppressing the immune system in a way that is similar to that of HIV.
“Pregnant women are more susceptible to Zika virus because pregnancy naturally suppresses a woman’s immune system so her body doesn’t reject the fetus – essentially it’s a foreign object. Our study shows pregnant women are more prone to immune suppression. Zika exploits that weakness to infect and replicate,” Jung said.
Previous studies conducted by the researchers on the topic identified two specific Zika proteins that are associated with microcephaly. It is reported by Medical Express that it was the first step towards preventing the birth of babies with abnormally small heads to Zika-infected mothers. The Pan American Health Organization noted that up to 3,000 cases microcephaly has been reported in women that were infected with the virus when pregnant.
While conducting the previous study, the authors tested the African and Asian Zika virus strains in blood samples of pregnant women, non-pregnant women, and healthy men who were between the age of 18 and 39. Interestingly, the researchers found that the Asian Zika virus is far more pernicious during the first and second trimester of pregnancy. They stated that this is when the disease suppresses the immune system.
However, the blood of both pregnant women and non-pregnant women that are infected with Zika virus is almost the same. Meanwhile, in the new study, the authors analyzed the blood samples of 30 Asian Zika-infected pregnant women – 10 from each of the three trimesters. They compared it with that of 15 pregnant women – 5 from each trimester that were not infected with the virus.
They found an abnormally high expression of the ADAMTS9 and FN1 genes generally linked to pregnancy complications. While ADAMTS9 is said to be associated with the birth of underweight newborns and complicated delivery, FN1 is associated with womb abnormalities that lead to small babies and pre-eclampsia. The researchers published their findings on August 14, in Nature Microbiology.