Microencephaly in fetal piglets following in utero inoculation of Zika virus article

P.J. Wichgers Schreur*, L. van Keulen, D. Anjema, J. Kant, J. Kortekaas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that became associated with microcephaly in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults after its emergence in the Pacific and the Americas in 2015. Newly developed rodent and nonhuman primate models have already revealed important insights into ZIKV-induced neuropathology. Nonhuman primates are phylogenetically closely related to humans and are therefore preferred human surrogates in ZIKV research. However, the use of nonhuman primates, particularly during gestation, raises ethical issues. Considering that pigs also share many anatomical and physiological features with humans, this species may be an attractive alternative human surrogate for ZIKV research. Here, we inoculated 20 porcine fetuses in utero and assessed the effect of ZIKV on brain development 4 weeks later. All inoculated fetuses presented mild to severe neuropathology, characterized by a depletion of neurons in the cerebral cortex. In most cases, neuronal depletion was confined to specific cerebral lobes without affecting brain size, whereas in severe cases a more generalized depletion resulted in microencephaly. Although the virus was widespread in the sows' placenta at the time of necropsy only low levels of viral RNA were detected in fetal brain samples, thereby preventing the identification of primary target cells. Our findings suggest that pigs can be used to study ZIKV-induced neurodevelopmental defects as currently observed in human neonates, varying from stunted brain growth to localized cortical neuronal depletion in the absence of major macroscopic abnormalities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number42
JournalEmerging Microbes and Infections
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2018


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