Is Prevention from Zika Virus Lies Inside Human Body?


Researchers discovered that an endogenous protein can prevent the replication of Zika virus.

Amidst all the research and development going on to develop medications and vaccines to combat against dreadful Zika virus pandemic, a team of researchers from University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) discovered interferon-induced transmembrane protein (IFITM3)– a human protein present inside our own bodies can prevent us from getting infected by Zika virus by blocking its replication.

This work represents the first look at how our cells defend themselves against Zika virus’ attack,” said Dr. Brass, senior author of the study, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and physiological systems. “Our results show that Zika virus has a weakness that we could potentially exploit to prevent or stop infection“.

IFITM is a human protein encoded by IFITM genes. These proteins express it in different tissues and cells and take part in germ cell maturation and development and immune response signalling. When the UMMS researchers charged the Zika virus infected cells with IFITM3, their replication got drastically reduced. It indicated that IFITM3 can inhibit the initial stages of Zika virus replication and also prevent the death of our cells by Zika virus.

IFITM3 stop zika virus

Figure 1. The IFITMs Inhibit Zika Virus Replication (Photo credit: Savidis et al. Cell Reports (2016), //

The Brass and team noticed that the level of IFITM3 in the cell membrane is essential for the defense of the body against the Zika infection. In the case of low level of IFITM3, the Zika virus can easily penetrate inside the cell and when the IFITM3 is present in sufficient amount in the membrane it prevents the virus from reaching inside and stops the infection.

The exact mechanism of IFITM mediated Zika virus restriction is not known but the earlier findings related to the anti-viral actions of IFITMs against the other related flaviviruses like dengue virus and west Nile virus supported the efficiency of IFITMs as a potential inhibitor of various life threatening emerging viruses like dengue and Ebola.

Both anti-viral proteins, IFITM1 and IFITM3 can inhibit Zika virus infection but IFITM3 is the most efficient one. The cytopathic effect which causes structural changes in the cells due to viral attack can also be avoided by the expression of IFITM2 and IFITM3. The complete study is published in Cell Reports.

This work shows that IFITM3 acts as an early front line defender to prevent Zika virus from getting its hands on all of the resources in our cells that it needs to grow,” said George Savidis, a research associate in the Brass lab and the first author of the study. “IFITM3 pretty much keeps Zika virus stuck in no man’s land where it can’t do anything to harm us“.

The outbreak of Zika virus epidemic in the US occurred in 2015. Till now, no treatment has been developed for Zika virus infection. Many pieces of evidence of microcephaly (severe brain deformation in infants) also came to light caused due to Zika virus infection in the pregnant women.

This research indicated that the tool for the eradication of Zika virus is present inside the human body who became the victim of this virus in ignorance. Now, the further enhancement of the mechanism of IFITM against the emerging dreadful viruses can help in the eradication of the risk to human health posed by these viruses.

Featured image credit: Maternity vaccination health-care © Jakub Jirsak (Stock Photo ID: 117778322)

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