Spotlight Live: Zika Virus and the Brain

NOTE: Thanks to everyone who joined our discussion. AN INDEX OF QUESTIONS will be up shortly.

SCIENTISTS ARE RACING to uncover the Zika virus's secrets. There is little doubt that a strain of the virus is responsible for the surge in Brazilian babies born with unusually small heads, or microcephaly. Much less clear is how Zika damages the brain—and whether that damage can be prevented.

At the forefront of this race are three neuroscientists who have spent their careers studying how the brain develops from a tiny sphere of unspecialized cells into an adult brain with its billions of nerve cells and characteristic form. In a flurry of papers published early this spring, they provided the first experimental evidence of how Zika attacks immature brain cells and how it disrupts the carefully orchestrated events that ultimately build a healthy brain.

On May 26, 12:30 pm PDT (3:30 pm EDT), The Kavli Foundation had a live webcast with neuroscientists Arnold Kriegstein, Guo-li Ming and Hongjun Song about Zika's effects on the brain, plus what it’s like to do emergency research. 

Arnold KriegsteinGuo-li MingHongjun SongLindsay Borthwick

About the Participants (left to right)


  • What questions first spring to mind about Zika and microcephaly? (3:00)
  • What are human embryonic neural cortical  progenitor cells and what do they do? (5:50)
  • What does Zika actually do to these neural progenitor cells? (8:10)
  • Can you describe what "mini-brains" are? (9:50)
  • So when the mini-brains were infected with Zika, what did you see? (12:20)
  • How does genetic microcephaly differ from those caused by Zika? (14:40)
  • Do we know why Zika microcephaly is so severe? (17:50)
  • What ideas do you have that might help to combat the Zika virus? (20:10)
  • What are the urgent questions about Zika and the developing brain? (22:50)
  • Zika is part of a family of viruses, is there anything helpful that we gather form studying like viruses? (25:35)
  • How has the experience studying Zika differed compared to other projects? (27:50)