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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Jan 22;99(2):978-83. Epub 2002 Jan 2.

Spontaneous molecular reactivation of herpes simplex virus type 1 latency in mice.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of California Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA.


Infection of the mouse trigeminal ganglia (TG) is the most commonly used model for the study of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) latency. Its popularity is caused, at least in part, by the perception that latent infection can be studied in this system in the absence of spontaneous viral reactivation. However, this perception has never been rigorously tested. To carefully study this issue, the eyes of Swiss-Webster mice were inoculated with HSV-1 (KOS), and 37-47 days later the TG were dissected, serial-sectioned, and probed for HSV-1 ICP4, thymidine kinase, glycoprotein C, and latency-associated transcript RNA by in situ hybridization. Serial sections of additional latently infected TG were probed with HSV-1-specific polyclonal antisera. Analysis of thousands of probed sections revealed abundant expression of viral transcripts, viral protein, and viral DNA replication in about 1 neuron per 10 TG tested. These same neurons were surrounded by a focal white cell infiltrate, indicating the presence of an antigenic stimulus. We conclude that productive cycle viral genes are abundantly expressed in rare neurons of latently infected murine TG and that these events are promptly recognized by an active local immune response. In the absence of detectable infectious virus in these ganglia, we propose the term "spontaneous molecular reactivation" to describe this ongoing process.

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