A new weapon against West Nile Virus

A new weapon against West Nile Virus

By Sarah Carey

Maureen Long

A new “gene chip” developed at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine sheds light on brain response in horses infected with West Nile virus and could lead to better ways to diagnose and treat both equines and humans, researchers say.

The researchers developed a “brain and immunity chip” to characterize molecular changes in the equine brain during illness and recovery from West Nile virus. The findings were published in the journal PloS One.

“We hope this will help us understand why some animals and humans become sick and others succumb to the virus resulting in severe illness, lifelong neurological debilitation and even death,” said Maureen Long, D.V.M., Ph.D., an associate professor of infectious diseases and pathology. “Knowing this will allow us to come up with treatments that aid in recovery from illness.”

Melissa Bourgeois, D.V.M., Ph.D., created a gene library enriched for neurological and immunological sequences to develop the novel chip, which will help target genes that are active during brain disease states. A gene chip, or microarray, is a slide with hundreds of pieces of DNA strands arranged in a regular pattern. When those strands are exposed to genetic material from cells, researchers can identify genes associated with equine brain disease.

West Nile virus is a potentially serious illness often transmitted by mosquitoes. Since 1999, more than 24,000 cases of West Nile virus encephalitis have been reported in horses in the United States.

“Information discovered in this research could eventually be used to combat not only outbreaks of West Nile virus, but also as a model to understand and reduce the impact of viral encephalitis in general,” said Bourgeois, who now works for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.