More than half of US adults are carriers of HSV1 (herpes simplex virus type 1), which has no cure. However, researchers are uncovering new information that can help work towards a long-needed vaccine for the condition.
The study found that herpes has a sneaky strategy for infecting the nervous system. While some carriers will never even experience a cold sore, others can have blindness or even life-threatening encephalitis. There is also increasing evidence that it may contribute to dementia.
Two Types of the Virus
There are two main types of the herpes virus, HSV1 and its close sibling HSV2. Commonly transmitted through sexual contact, HSV2 can be passed from a mother to a newborn during the birthing process, appearing as lesions all over the body up the infant. Most babies recover, but in the worst cases, it can cause brain damage or be lethal. This is why researchers are working towards a desperately needed vaccine.
The study was able to uncover how herpes kidnaps a protein from epithelial cells and turns it into a defector to help it travel into the peripheral nervous system. The research team termed the process “assimilation.” This discovery could have wide-ranging implications for many viruses, including SARS-oV-2 and HIV.
Researchers explain that the virus needs to inject its genetic code into the nucleus so it can start making more herpes viruses. It essentially reprograms the cell to become a virus factory.
Just like other viruses, herpes uses protein engines to move around the cell called microtubules. The research team discovered that herpes uses a kinesin engine that brings it from other cells to ferry it to the nucleus in the neuron. This kinesin then becomes a defector to serve the virus’s purpose.
“By learning how the virus is achieving this incredible feat to get into our nervous system, we can now think about how to take away that ability,” said Greg Smith, lead author of the study.
The research team is excited to further uncover the molecular mechanisms that viruses such as herpes have evolved to make them possibly the most successful pathogens known to science. As more studies become available, a vaccine becomes more of a possibility for this serious condition.