Viral Receptor for Zika Virus Highly Expressed in Brain Cells

HealthDay News — The candidate viral entry receptor for Zika virus, AXL, is highly expressed by cells in the developing human cortex and retina, according to an experimental study published in Cell Stem Cell.

Tomasz J. Nowakowski, PhD, from the University of California in San Francisco, and colleagues explored the expression of receptors implicated in cell entry of several enveloped viruses including Zika virus across diverse cell types.

The researchers found that the candidate viral entry receptor AXL was highly expressed by human radial glial cells, astrocytes, endothelial cells, and microglia in the developing human cortex, based on single-cell RNA-seq and immunohistochemistry. High expression was also seen on progenitor cells in the developing retina. AXL expression in the radial glia was conserved in the cortex of developing mouse and ferret and in stem cell-derived cerebral organoids from humans.

“The current manuscript constitutes an initial step toward the understanding of how Zika virus might cause developmental brain malformations,” the authors write.


Nowakowski T, Pollen A, Di Lullo E, Sandoval-Espinosa C, Bershteyn M, Kriegstein A. Expression Analysis Highlights AXL as a Candidate Zika Virus Entry Receptor in Neural Stem Cells. Cell Stem Cell. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.stem.2016.03.012.