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Treatment Target for Herpes Pinpointed
Date:3/27/2009

Study finds VP16 is molecular key that unlocks the virus from latent state

FRIDAY, March 27 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have identified a potential new target in the ongoing quest for a treatment, and possibly a cure, for the herpes virus.

A viral protein known as VP16 is apparently responsible for pushing herpes out of its latent state and back into an active infectious state.

Experts estimate that 70 percent to 90 percent of people worldwide carry the herpes virus, although not all show symptoms. "It's a huge, huge epidemic," said study author Nancy Sawtell, a researcher in the division of infectious diseases at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Her report appears in the March 26 issue of PLoS Pathogens.

Herpes is transmitted by close person-to-person contact, often through the mouth or genitals. This study looks specifically at herpes simplex 1, which can cause cold sores and genital lesions. The virus can also cause stromal keritis, the leading cause of infectious blindness.

After infection at the skin surface, the virus travels to nerve cells, where it becomes dormant. Although the virus is infectious while it is replicating at the surface, it is non-infectious during this latent phase.

"About one-quarter of neurons contain latent virus," Sawtell explained. "Periodically, in response to stress, the virus will reactivate. From animal models, we know that the number of neurons that exit latency are very few, about one or two out of 6,000, and these neurons go back to the surface and replicate, potentially spreading the virus."

Scientists have long been mystified by one aspect of this ubiquitous virus: what causes it to exit the latent stage and become infectious again?

"We have been trying to understand the molecular mechanism which regulates entry into the latent cycle, what turns on the latent program, and how does that exit from latent program o
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