Zika virus infection impairs synaptogenesis, induces neuroinflammation, and could be an environmental risk factor for autism spectrum disorder outcome

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2024 Feb 24:167097. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2024.167097. Online ahead of print.


Zika virus (ZIKV) infection was first associated with Central Nervous System (CNS) infections in Brazil in 2015, correlated with an increased number of newborns with microcephaly, which ended up characterizing the Congenital Zika Syndrome (CZS). Here, we investigated the impact of ZIKV infection on the functionality of iPSC-derived astrocytes. Besides, we extrapolated our findings to a Brazilian cohort of 136 CZS children and validated our results using a mouse model. Interestingly, ZIKV infection in neuroprogenitor cells compromises cell migration and causes apoptosis but does not interfere in astrocyte generation. Moreover, infected astrocytes lost their ability to uptake glutamate while expressing more glutamate transporters and secreted higher levels of IL-6. Besides, infected astrocytes secreted factors that impaired neuronal synaptogenesis. Since these biological endophenotypes were already related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we extrapolated these results to a cohort of children, now 6-7 years old, and found seven children with ASD diagnosis (5.14 %). Additionally, mice infected by ZIKV revealed autistic-like behaviors, with a significant increase of IL-6 mRNA levels in the brain. Considering these evidence, we inferred that ZIKV infection during pregnancy might lead to synaptogenesis impairment and neuroinflammation, which could increase the risk for ASD.

Keywords: ASD; Astrocytes; Autism; CZS; Neuroinflammation; ZIKV.