Sphingolipids: The Key to Understanding Zika Virus

Posted on September 01, 2020


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Public health breakthroughs may hinge on research involving sphingolipids, along with their links to the Zika virus. New research suggests lipids may serve a vital role in the virus’s survival, proving essential to replication. Simultaneously bridging together molecular science and medical treatments, research findings could also have merit in broadening our understanding of the Zika virus.

Zika’s Molecular Mystery

Mystery still surrounds the Zika virus on a molecular level. The 2015–16 outbreak spread throughout South, Central, and North America, ferried by a well-known culprit: mosquitoes. Zika-carrying mosquitoes pass on the virus to humans through bites, and pregnant women prove particularly at risk. This is due to the virus’s penchant to target fetal nerve cells, which later translates into scores of trouble for newborn development.

While the consequences for Zika are apparent, the exact ways that Zika virus causes disease remain elusive. Research may be scant on the subject, but that hasn’t stopped progress from being made.

Zika’s Links to Lipids

Zika’s interaction with host cells has garnered interest. Recently, researchers witnessed genetic shifts in cells infiltrated by Zika, and teased out certain proteins Zika co-opted to continue cloning itself.

These molecular-level moves by Zika identified an integral link in the replication chain: lipids. Making up cell membranes, host lipids supply a ready-made resource for the virus to replicate. Many viruses can’t rely solely on their own lipid production to reproduce, which may be why Zika zeroes in on lipid-laden nerve cells.

But that’s not the full story. Researchers’ scope narrowed even further when ceramide, a sphingolipid, showed experimental promise. Later tests revealed that a molecule bent on blocking sphingolipid cellular production also seemed to carry over to the virus; viral replication drastically reduced as well. Upon further research, a single step in the sphingolipid production process proved influential in virus replication.

What This Means

All this information means a good deal from a medical perspective: it may help spot viable candidates for drug development. Drugs that target viral proteins, and even human ones, could come down the pipeline, if biological processes permit. The research also broadens disease understanding, which could translate into custom treatments. That’s good news for those on the front lines of Zika and other viruses like it.

If sphingolipids cater to your own research, you’ll be happy to know that Avanti Polar Lipids carries these lipids—and more. In fact, find all sorts of solutions, whether for research purposes, commercial production, or somewhere in between, with us. Plus, keep in the know with the help of our blog! Interested in reading more on this topic? Take a look at this article from Medical Xpress.