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Zika Infection During Pregnancy May Disrupt Fetal Oxygen Supply

A doctor holds a stethoscope to a pregnant woman's belly

Zika virus infection among pregnant women can lead to developmental problems in fetuses and newborns.

Photo: iStock

Zika virus infection appears to affect oxygen delivery to the fetuses of pregnant monkeys, according to a small study funded by NIH. Researchers also observed a high degree of inflammation in the placenta and lining of the uterus, which can harm the fetal immune system and increase a newborn’s susceptibility to additional infections. The study is published online in Nature Communications.

Zika virus infection among pregnant women can lead to developmental problems in fetuses and newborns. In the current study, researchers led by Dr. Daniel Streblow of the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute at Oregon National Primate Research Center, used non-invasive imaging to evaluate how persistent Zika infection affects pregnancy in five rhesus macaques. The team found that the virus induces high levels of inflammation in the blood vessels of the uterus and damages placental villi, the branch-like growths that help transfer oxygen and nutrients from maternal blood to the fetus. The researchers suggest that this damage may disrupt oxygen transport to the fetus, which can restrict its growth and lead to stillbirth, among other conditions.

The team observed evidence of fetal brain abnormalities in 2 of the 5 animals, but the researchers did not see any obvious signs of microcephaly. This finding, they reason, is consistent with previous studies that establish microcephaly as only one of a spectrum of Zika-induced complications. The authors call for additional studies to improve knowledge of how Zika virus causes infection during pregnancy.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
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Dana Talesnik
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