Ivan Gladwyn-Ng, Lluís Cordón-Barris, Christian Alfano, Catherine Creppe, Thérèse Couderc, Giovanni Morelli, Nicolas Thelen, Michelle America, Bettina Bessières, Férechté Encha-Razavi, Maryse Bonnière, Ikuo K. Suzuki, Marie Flamand, Pierre Vanderhaeghen, Marc Thiry, Marc Lecuit & Laurent Nguyen
Accumulating evidence support a causal link between Zika virus (ZIKV) infection during gestation and congenital microcephaly. However, the mechanism of ZIKV-associated microcephaly remains unclear. We combined analyses of ZIKV-infected human fetuses, cultured human neural stem cells and mouse embryos to understand how ZIKV induces microcephaly. We show that ZIKV triggers endoplasmic reticulum stress and unfolded protein response in the cerebral cortex of infected postmortem human fetuses as well as in cultured human neural stem cells. After intracerebral and intraplacental inoculation of ZIKV in mouse embryos, we show that it triggers endoplasmic reticulum stress in embryonic brains in vivo. This perturbs a physiological unfolded protein response within cortical progenitors that controls neurogenesis. Thus, ZIKV-infected progenitors generate fewer projection neurons that eventually settle in the cerebral cortex, whereupon sustained endoplasmic reticulum stress leads to apoptosis. Furthermore, we demonstrate that administration of pharmacological inhibitors of unfolded protein response counteracts these pathophysiological mechanisms and prevents microcephaly in ZIKV-infected mouse embryos. Such defects are specific to ZIKV, as they are not observed upon intraplacental injection of other related flaviviruses in mice.