Zika virus NS3 protease induces bone morphogenetic protein-dependent brain calcification in human fetuses

Nature Microbiology, 2021


The most frequent fetal birth defect associated with prenatal Zika virus (ZIKV) infection is brain calcification, which in turn may potentially affect neurological development in infants. Understanding the mechanism could inform the development of potential therapies against prenatal ZIKV brain calcification. In perivascular cells, bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) is an osteogenic factor that undergoes maturation to activate osteogenesis and calcification. Here, we show that ZIKV infection of cultivated primary human brain pericytes triggers BMP2 maturation, leading to osteogenic gene expression and calcification. We observed extensive calcification near ZIKV+ pericytes of fetal human brain specimens and in vertically transmitted ZIKV+ human signal transducer and activator of transcription 2-knockin mouse pup brains. ZIKV infection of primary pericytes stimulated BMP2 maturation, inducing osteogenic gene expression and calcification that were completely blocked by anti-BMP2/4 neutralizing antibody. Not only did ZIKV NS3 expression alone induce BMP2 maturation, osteogenic gene expression and calcification, but purified NS3 protease also effectively cleaved pro-BMP2 in vitro to generate biologically active mature BMP2. These findings highlight ZIKV-induced calcification where the NS3 protease subverts the BMP2-mediated osteogenic signalling pathway to trigger brain calcification.

The following GeneTex product was featured in this publication:

GTX133309  Zika virus NS3 protein antibody

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