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The Horizon 2020 call by the European Commission’s Directorate-General Research and Innovation has funded the ZIKAlliance project to better characterise the clinical and fundamental aspects of infections by Zika virus (ZIKV), an emerging pathogen currently spreading in the Americas. ZIKV infection is generally mild, but the virus can also be responsible for severe neurological disorders and congenital microcephaly.

A study performed by the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) team of Dr Ali Amara (U944, Paris, France) and published in Cell Reports sheds new light on the mechanisms allowing ZIKV to infect cells within the human nervous system. Amara et al. showed that the protein Axl is expressed in a number of brain glial cells and that the entry of ZIKV into these cells requires another protein, Gas6, to act as a bridge between the ZIKV particles and the glial cells.

In addition, Amara et al. showed that triggering the protein Axl dampens the immune response against ZIKV. This study provides important insights into the molecular interactions occurring upon ZIKV entry into human glial cells, and the related findings constitute a major step in deciphering the mechanisms of neurological complications in ZIKV infection, by indicating that inhibition of Axl function may represent a potential target for future therapies against ZIKV. However, more research is required to understand the effect that blocking the Axl function might have.

A number of funding agencies contributed to this project: this work was supported by the European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under ZIKAlliance Grant Agreement 734548, in association with NIH, Labex Integrative Biology of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the French National Research Agency ‘‘Investissements d’Avenir’’ and grant TIMTAMDEN.                                              



For more information about ZIKAlliance or ZIKAlliance’s activities, please contact Xavier de Lamballerie (Scientific Coordinator) at or phone: +33 491324420; or Flavia Mariani (Project Manager) at or phone: +33 491324412.