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Study: New Way To Hold Back Herpes, Keep Virus Latent

Fluorescent staining shows areas of the cornea affected by herpes virus that infected a man's eyes. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Fluorescent staining shows areas of the cornea affected by herpes virus that infected a man’s eyes. (Source: Wikipedia)

Chances are, you’ve got herpes, I’ve got herpes, we’ve all got herpes.

Studies find that by age 60, virtually all adults carry herpes simplex virus 1 — best known for seeping cold sores but also potentially blinding when it hits the eyes. Herpes simplex virus 2, the sexually transmitted disease, infects more than a quarter of people by their forties, the CDC says.

While anti-viral medications can help, there is no cure for herpes viruses. Their wily ways of going latent between recurrences, hiding out in viral reservoirs in our bodies, make them supremely hard to eradicate.

So it’s welcome news that a study just out in the journal Science Translational Medicine describes a whole new strategy for beating down herpes viruses and keeping them down — at least in mice, rabbits and guinea pigs.

Far fewer of the mice died or had virus spreading throughout their bodies.

It’s a tactic that researchers say may also hold promise for attacking HIV, another virus whose habit of hiding out makes it hard to kill, and the herpes zoster virus that causes excruciating shingles.

The new method hinges on epigenetics — specifically, protein “packages” that determine how genes are turned off and on.

For a herpes virus to go from a latent state to an active state, it needs to unpackage or unbundle its genes so they can be “turned on” and begin to replicate and spread. But, the researchers found, if they block an enzyme called LSD1, those genes tend to stay bundled up and inactive.

It’s as if the viral DNA encoding the genes needed to reactivate the virus naturally carries a “Don’t open me!” sign on it, says the paper’s senior author, Dr. Thomas M. Kristie. The LSD1 enzyme can remove that sign. But block the enzyme and the “Don’t open me!” sign stays up. Continue reading