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Zika virus infection: Clinically inapparent newborns can also suffer from long-term health impairments

Monday, 10. September 2018

Hamburg. A scientific team from the "Viral Zoonoses - One Health" research department of the Heinrich Pette Institute (HPI) and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover (TiHo) has investigated the urgent medical question of whether supposedly healthy offspring of Zika virus-infected mothers suffer from long-term health impairments. The results have now been published in the renowned journal "Nature Microbiology".

During the South American Zika virus epidemic in 2015, the news went around the world: An infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy was associated with fetal losses, spontaneous abortions and neurological disorders such as microcephaly in newborns. But what are the long-term effects in children of Zika virus-infected mothers who show no clinical manifestations at birth? These clinically normal children account for over 90% of all children born in Zika endemic areas. Researchers from the HPI and TiHo research department "Viral Zoonoses - One Health", headed by Prof. Dr. Gülsah Gabriel, used a mouse pregnancy model to investigate this question.

The results support the assumption that maternal Zika virus infection during early embryonic development affects fetal development in the uterus. As a result, offspring without clinical manifestations at birth may suffer from neuronal abnormalities as well as from learning and memory deficits in adulthood. In addition, the study shows gender-specific differences in offspring: Male offspring from a mild maternal Zika virus infection during pregnancy have significantly higher testosterone levels than offspring from non-infected mothers. These high testosterone levels correlate with behavioral and learning impairments in adult male offspring. Female offspring of Zika virus-infected mothers also suffer from cognitive impairment, although the neurocognitive impairment is much more pronounced in male offspring. "Our results show how important it is to carry out targeted and gender-specific monitoring, especially of the initially inapparent children of Zika virus-infected mothers," explains Prof. Dr. Gülsah Gabriel.

Numerous highly renowned national and international partners were involved in this study, which was led by the Heinrich Pette Institute, Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover and carried out in close cooperation with the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). The research work has been supported by the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG), the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the N-RENNT Program of the State of Lower Saxony.


The results were published in the renowned journal "Nature Microbiology":

Stephanie Stanelle-Bertram, Kerstin Walendy-Gnirß, Thomas Speiseder, Swantje Thiele, Ivy Asantewaa Asante, Carola Dreier, Nancy Mounogou Kouassi, Annette Preuß, Gundula Pilnitz-Stolze, Ursula Müller, Stefanie Thanisch, Melanie Richter, Robin Scharrenberg, Vanessa Kraus, Ronja Dörk, Lynn Schau, Vanessa Herder, Ingo Gerhauser, Vanessa Maria Pfankuche, Christopher Käufer, Inken Waltl, Thais Moraes, Julie Sellau, Stefan Hoenow, Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, Stephanie Jansen, Benjamin Schattling, Harald Ittrich, Udo Bartsch, Thomas Renné, Ralf Bartenschlager, Petra Arck, Daniel Cadar, Manuel A. Friese, Olli Vapalahti, Hanna Lotter, Sany Benites, Lane Rolling, Martin Gabriel, Wolfgang Baumgärtner, Fabio Morellini, Sabine M. Hölter, Oana Amarie, Helmut Fuchs, Martin Hrabe de Angelis, Wolfgang Löscher, Froylan Calderon de Anda and Gülsah Gabriel (2018). Male offspring born to mildly ZIKV-infected mice are at risk of developing neurocognitive disorders in adulthood. Nature Microbiology, 2018 Sept 10.



Dr. Stephanie Stanelle-Bertram:


Heinrich Pette Institute, Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology,


Prof. Dr. Gülsah Gabriel:

Heinrich Pette Institute, Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology,


University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover,


Picture ©HPI/Udo Thomas