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Exploring how herpes simplex virus changes when passed between family members

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17 October 2018

The outer protein shell (procapsid) of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1). A new study explores how HSV1 might change when passed from one individual to another. This information may provide important insight for future development of therapeutics and vaccines. Credit: Bernard Heymann, Ph.D., NIAMS Laboratory of Structural Biology Research, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health.A rare glimpse into a transmission event of herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) explores how the virus might change when passed from one individual to another—information that may prove useful in future development of therapeutics and vaccines.

“Capturing transmission of herpes simplex virus is incredibly difficult,” said Moriah Szpara, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, “in part because the virus remains in an individual’s body for the remainder of their life after being infected. This makes it hard to know exactly when the virus was first transmitted.”

The researchers took advantage of a known case of familial transmission between a father and a son, in which the virus was transmitted through contact with saliva. To investigate potential differences in the virus after transmission, the researchers cultured samples of the virus from both individuals in the lab, used genetic sequencing, and examined each virus in an animal model to compare the level of virulence, or the ability to cause disease. The results suggest that HSV-1 may not change much when transmitted between closely related individuals, and the researchers suspect that transmission between unrelated hosts may provide a more dramatic opportunity for change.

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