ContribUted by Guest Blogger: A. Parayannilam ’13
The cold sores many of us see on our mouths or faces at one point in our lifetimes are caused by the prevalent Herpes simplex virus Type 1(HSV1). More serious symptoms can develop if the virus infects the Central Nervous System, causing herpes encephalitis and damage to the brain. A recent study has shown how interferon delta (IFN-λ), a member of a group of proteins known as interferons (IFNs), can reduce infectivity of the virus in the Central Nervous System. The results of the study are promising: perhaps by recruiting the body’s own defenses, we can avoid the use of potentially unsafe antiviral drugs in treatment for the disease.
Researchers observed IFN-λ to significantly reduce the quantity of the virus found in infected cells of the central nervous system, specifically astrocytes and neurons. Researchers investigated the mechanism behind IFN-λ’s anti-HSV-1 effect and found that IFN-λ activated several Type 1 IFNs. Type 1 IFNs play critical roles in our innate immunity and defense against viruses. To test the significance of Type 1 IFNs, researchers treated astrocytes and neurons with Type 1 IFN antibodies, essentially preventing IFN- λ from activating Type 1 IFNs in these cells. The antibody-treated cells became highly susceptible to infection, highlighting the importance of Type 1 IFNs in the virulence of the disease.
Another method by which IFN- λ reduces infectivity of the virus is by promoting cytokine signaling. Cytokine signaling is a method of intercellular communication cells use to warn each other of infection. Because HSV-1 suppresses cytokine signaling, uninfected cells aren’t able to prepare themselves for possible infection, making these cells more susceptible to infection.
The study raises a number of questions. The researchers discuss the interplay between HSV-1 and interferon delta, but how about the interplay between HSV-2 and interferon delta? The study examines how interferon delta can reduce infectivity in astrocytes and neurons– can interferon delta similarly reduce infectivity in cells outside the Central Nervous System? Is this a fix to the annoying, chronic cold sores that affect the majority of us?