The recent Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak in the Western hemisphere is associated with severe pathology in newborns, including microcephaly and brain damage. The mechanisms underlying these outcomes are under intense investigation. Here, we show that a 2015 ZIKV isolate replicates in multiple cell types, including primary human fetal neural progenitors (hNPs). In immortalized cells, ZIKV is cytopathic and grossly rearranges endoplasmic reticulum membranes similar to other flaviviruses. In hNPs, ZIKV infection has a partial cytopathic phase characterized by cell rounding, pyknosis, and activation of caspase 3. Despite notable cell death, ZIKV did not activate a cytokine response in hNPs. This lack of cell intrinsic immunity to ZIKV is consistent with our observation that virus replication persists in hNPs for at least 28 days. These findings, supported by published fetal neuropathology, establish a proof-of-concept that neural progenitors in the developing human fetus can be direct targets of detrimental ZIKV-induced pathology.
Copyright © 2016. Published by Elsevier Inc.