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Mass Spec Analysis Detects Protein Signature Suggestive of Zika Exposure

NEW YORK (360Dx) – Using mass spectrometry, researchers have identified peptides that they said may elucidate whether someone has been exposed to the Zika virus.

In a study published Monday in the Journal of Dental Research, a team of scientists from Canada and Brazil analyzed the saliva from a mother infected with the virus, as well as her twins, a daughter who was born with microcephaly — which has been associated with the virus — and a son who was born without the condition, and identified a specific protein signature for Zika, opening up the possibility that the signature could be used to screen for exposure to Zika.

They said in the study that they identified nine sequence variations that were unique to the daughter, but which were not found in either the mother or the son.

"This sequence information could provide a template for future neuropathogenic studies," the researchers said, though they cautioned that a much larger sample size will be required to determine if the sequence variation is, indeed, associated with microcephaly.

"The research suggests a vertical transmission of the virus between mother and baby," the researchers said in a statement. "The mutations in the amino acid sequence of the peptides that were different for each twin, [suggest] that these mutations may play a role in whether or not a baby will develop microcephaly."

They noted that currently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention diagnoses Zika by looking for RNA changes. However, that approach can detect the virus only five to seven days after exposure. Proteins and peptides that come directly from the virus are more stable than RNA, and saliva proteomics can detect the virus longer after exposure than with the traditional method, said Walter Siqueira an associate professor of dentistry at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario London, and the corresponding author on the study.

The research could lead to the development of antibody-based diagnostic tests for point-of-care detection of Zika, according to the researchers, who have received a provision US patent to develop a simple device that could be used to identify the Zika virus peptides in saliva out of the laboratory environment.