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Release: June 13, 2001

UI investigator receives grant to study virus that causes fetal brain damage

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa Health Care researcher has received a three-year, $245,000 grant from the March of Dimes Research Foundation to study neurologic birth defects caused by infection with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), a virus that can cause fetal brain damage. The award was effective June 1.

The award will allow investigators to expand current LCMV research at the UI, said lead investigator Daniel Bonthius, M.D., Ph.D., UI assistant professor of pediatrics.

"We have found that the LCMV infects four specific brain regions and causes very different disease patterns as well as different disease severity and time-courses in each of the four regions," Bonthius said. "We will investigate why four brain regions infected simultaneously with a single viral species can differ so dramatically from each other in their disease consequences."

Transmitted by field mice and other rodents, LCMV is a prevalent human pathogen. An estimated 10 percent of all people will be infected at some point in their lives. Most people become only moderately ill when infected and fully recover. However, if the infection occurs during pregnancy, the fetal brain may be severely and permanently damaged, which can result in mental retardation, epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

"A second key question on which we will focus our research is why the fetal brain is so much more vulnerable than the adult brain is to LCMV-induced damage," Bonthius added.

Although no specific treatment for LCMV infection exists, pregnant women can minimize their risk of becoming infected with the virus by taking steps to eliminate mice in their homes, especially during the fall and early winter months.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.