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Suggested mechanisms for Zika virus causing microcephaly: what do the genomes tell us?

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Se-Ran JunTrudy M. WassenaarVisanu WanchaiPreecha PatumcharoenpolIntawat Nookaew and David W. Ussery.

Published: 28 December 2017



Zika virus (ZIKV) is an emerging human pathogen. Since its arrival in the Western hemisphere, from Africa via Asia, it has become a serious threat to pregnant women, causing microcephaly and other neuropathies in developing fetuses. The mechanisms behind these teratogenic effects are unknown, although epidemiological evidence suggests that microcephaly is not associated with the original, African lineage of ZIKV. The sequences of 196 published ZIKV genomes were used to assess whether recently proposed mechanistic explanations for microcephaly are supported by molecular level changes that may have increased its virulence since the virus left Africa. For this we performed phylogenetic, recombination, adaptive evolution and tetramer frequency analyses, and compared protein sequences for the presence of protease cleavage sites, Pfam domains, glycosylation sites, signal peptides, trans-membrane protein domains, and phosphorylation sites.

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