Infectious Herpes Simplex Virus in the Brain Stem Is Correlated with Reactivation in the Trigeminal Ganglia

  • Doll J
  • Thompson R
  • Sawtell N
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Herpes simplex virus (HSV) establishes latency in neurons of the peripheral and central nervous systems (CNS). Evidence is mounting that HSV latency and reactivation in the nervous system has the potential to promote neurodegenerative processes. Understanding how this occurs is an important human health goal. In the mouse model, in vivo viral reactivation in the peripheral nervous system, triggered by hyperthermic stress, has been well characterized with respect to frequency and cell type. However, characterization of in vivo reactivation in the CNS is extremely limited. Further, it remains unclear whether virus reactivated in the peripheral nervous system is transported to the CNS in an infectious form, how often this occurs, and what parameters underlie the efficiency and outcomes of this process. In this study, reactivation was quantified in the trigeminal ganglia (TG) and the brain stem from the same latently infected animal using direct assays of equivalent sensitivity. Reactivation was detected more frequently in the TG than in the brain stem and, in all but one case, the amount of virus recovered was greater in the TG than that detected in the brain stem. Viral protein positive neurons were observed in the TG, but a cellular source for reactivation in the brain stem was not identified, despite serially sectioning and examining the entire tissue (0/6 brain stems). These findings suggest that infectious virus detected in the brain stem is primarily the result of transport of reactivated virus from the TG into the brain stem. IMPORTANCE Latent herpes simplex virus (HSV) DNA has been detected in the central nervous systems (CNS) of humans postmortem, and infection with HSV has been correlated with the development of neurodegenerative diseases. However, whether HSV can directly reactivate in the CNS and/or infectious virus can be transported to the CNS following reactivation in peripheral ganglia has been unclear. In this study, infectious virus was recovered from both the trigeminal ganglia and the brain stem of latently infected mice following a reactivation stimulus, but a higher frequency of reactivation and increased titers of infectious virus were recovered from the trigeminal ganglia. Viral proteins were detected in neurons of the trigeminal ganglia, but a cellular source of infectious virus could not be identified in the brain stem. These results suggest that infectious virus is transported from the ganglia to the CNS following reactivation but do not exclude the potential for direct reactivation in the CNS.




Doll, J. R., Thompson, R. L., & Sawtell, N. M. (2019). Infectious Herpes Simplex Virus in the Brain Stem Is Correlated with Reactivation in the Trigeminal Ganglia. Journal of Virology, 93(8).

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