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New Study Findings on Dengue Could Throw a Wrench in Current Zika Research

With multiple Zika virus vaccines already in the works, a group of researchers has an important suggestion: consider previous infection with dengue in the development of any new prophylactic modality.

In a study published on August 18, 2017 in the journal Science Immunology, a team of authors from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California and the Ragon Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts sought to clarify the relationship between the 2 mosquito-borne viruses, both of which have created significant public health challenges in the Caribbean and South America in recent years. Both dengue and Zika are, of course, carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Using earlier research that has confirmed that the 2 viruses “share a high degree of homology,” with dengue virus as a starting point, the research team, which previously published several notable studies on Zika, hoped to establish whether this relationship could impact immunity and immune response between them—specifically, they wanted to determine whether preexisting immunity to dengue could affect immune responses to Zika. To do so, they tracked the evolution of Zika-induced B cell responses in 3 dengue-experienced donors and compared them to the immune response in 1 dengue-naïve donor.

In general, they found that, in the study subjects with a history of dengue, plasmablast antibody responses featured “relatively high” somatic hypermutation and a “bias toward” dengue virus binding and neutralization. The authors believe this finding implies that there is an early activation of dengue virus clones in new Zika infections. Notably, 5 months following Zika infection, the 3 dengue-experienced donors developed potent type-specific Zika virus neutralizing antibody responses in addition to dengue virus cross-reactive responses. Conversely, the dengue-naïve donor had what the authors described as a “classical primary plasmablast response.”

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