Infectious Diseases

Gene Editing Eliminates Over 90% Of Herpes Simplex Virus In Mice

Posted on 24 August 2020

  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a common infection that is usually asymptomatic, but can cause cold sores (mainly HSV-1) or genital blisters (mainly HSV-2).
  • HSV is able to evade the immune system, resulting in a lifelong infection that cannot currently be cured.
  • Here, a study reports that a gene editing technique can eliminate 90% of HSV in mice.

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) 1 and 2 are common contagious viruses that can cause cold sores (HSV-1) and genital herpes (mainly HSV-2). Infection with either virus is lifelong, and it is estimated that 67% of the world’s population of under 50s have HSV-1, although most infections carry no symptoms.

HSV hides from immune cells by infecting cells of the nervous system, from which it can resurface to cause recurrent infections. While there are medications that will reduce the severity of HSV recurrences, there is currently no way to eliminate the virus completely.

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HSV uses the axons of nerve cells to travel to and from the skin in between resurgences.

Now, a study published in nature has reported that a gene editing technique can eliminate over 90% of HSV from the neurons of infected mice. Researchers used an adeno-associated virus to deliver enzymes called meganucleases to infected cells. Meganucleases are ‘DNA scissors’ that can modify or delete DNA in a targeted way – in this case, attacking multiple sites within the HSV genome.

The levels of HSV elimination observed in these studies, if translated to humans, would likely significantly reduce HSV reactivation, shedding, and lesions. Further optimization of meganuclease delivery and activity is likely possible, and may offer a pathway to a cure for HSV infection.

Aubert, M., Strongin, D., Roychoudhury, P., Loprieno, M., Haick, A., & Klouser, L. et al. (2020). Gene editing and elimination of latent herpes simplex virus in vivo. Nature Communications11(1). doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-17936-5

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