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ZIKA virus elicits P53 activation and genotoxic stress in human neural progenitors similar to mutations involved in severe forms of genetic microcephaly and p53

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Vincent El Ghouzzi, Federico T Bianchi, Ivan Molineris, Bryan C Mounce, Gaia E Berto, Malgorzata Rak, Sophie Lebon, Laetitia Aubry, Chiara Tocco, Marta Gai, Alessandra Ma Chiotto, Francesco Sgrò, Gianmarco Pallavicini, Etienne Simon-Loriere, Sandrine Passemard, Marco Vignuzzi, Pierre Gressens, Ferdinando Di Cunto

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2440
JournalCell Death & Disease
Issue number10
Early online date27 Oct 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Oct 2016


King's Authors


Epidemiological evidence from the current outbreak of Zika virus (ZIKV) and recent studies in animal models indicate a strong causal link between ZIKV and microcephaly. ZIKV infection induces cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis in proliferating neural progenitors. However, the mechanisms leading to these phenotypes are still largely obscure. In this report, we explored the possible similarities between transcriptional responses induced by ZIKV in human neural progenitors and those elicited by three different genetic mutations leading to severe forms of microcephaly in mice. We found that the strongest similarity between all these conditions is the activation of common P53 downstream genes. In agreement with these observations, we report that ZIKV infection increases total P53 levels and nuclear accumulation, as well as P53 Ser15 phosphorylation, correlated with genotoxic stress and apoptosis induction. Interestingly, increased P53 activation and apoptosis are induced not only in cells expressing high levels of viral antigens but also in cells showing low or undetectable levels of the same proteins. These results indicate that P53 activation is an early and specific event in ZIKV-infected cells, which could result from cell-autonomous and/or non-cell-autonomous mechanisms. Moreover, we highlight a small group of P53 effector proteins that could act as critical mediators, not only in ZIKV-induced microcephaly but also in many genetic microcephaly syndromes.

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