It’s hard to miss the recent headlines about zika virus infection in pregnant women, which has been linked to growth defects in their babies. Zika is thought to cause a condition called microcephaly, where the brain doesn’t develop to the right size. But this isn’t the only virus that passes from mother to child. Around one in every 100 babies inherits an infection with cytomegalovirus (CMV) from its mother, and although in most cases the virus causes no problems, around one in five infected children have serious brain abnormalities. By studying human brain stem cells growing in the lab (seen here down a high-powered microscope), scientists are starting to understand how CMV affects the developing brain and causes these growth problems. They’ve discovered that the virus slows down or even prevents the process of brain cell maturation, which might also help to explain the effects of other viruses such as zika.
Written by Kat Arney
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