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J Vis Exp. 2012 Apr 2;(62). pii: 3823. doi: 10.3791/3823.

A primary neuron culture system for the study of herpes simplex virus latency and reactivation.

Author information

1
Department of Microbiology, New York University School of Medicine, NY, USA.

Abstract

Herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) establishes a life-long latent infection in peripheral neurons. This latent reservoir is the source of recurrent reactivation events that ensure transmission and contribute to clinical disease. Current antivirals do not impact the latent reservoir and there are no vaccines. While the molecular details of lytic replication are well-characterized, mechanisms controlling latency in neurons remain elusive. Our present understanding of latency is derived from in vivo studies using small animal models, which have been indispensable for defining viral gene requirements and the role of immune responses. However, it is impossible to distinguish specific effects on the virus-neuron relationship from more general consequences of infection mediated by immune or non-neuronal support cells in live animals. In addition, animal experimentation is costly, time-consuming, and limited in terms of available options for manipulating host processes. To overcome these limitations, a neuron-only system is desperately needed that reproduces the in vivo characteristics of latency and reactivation but offers the benefits of tissue culture in terms of homogeneity and accessibility. Here we present an in vitro model utilizing cultured primary sympathetic neurons from rat superior cervical ganglia (SCG) (Figure 1) to study HSV-1 latency and reactivation that fits most if not all of the desired criteria. After eliminating non-neuronal cells, near-homogeneous TrkA(+) neuron cultures are infected with HSV-1 in the presence of acyclovir (ACV) to suppress lytic replication. Following ACV removal, non-productive HSV-1 infections that faithfully exhibit accepted hallmarks of latency are efficiently established. Notably, lytic mRNAs, proteins, and infectious virus become undetectable, even in the absence of selection, but latency-associated transcript (LAT) expression persists in neuronal nuclei. Viral genomes are maintained at an average copy number of 25 per neuron and can be induced to productively replicate by interfering with PI3-Kinase / Akt signaling or the simple withdrawal of nerve growth factor(1). A recombinant HSV-1 encoding EGFP fused to the viral lytic protein Us11 provides a functional, real-time marker for replication resulting from reactivation that is readily quantified. In addition to chemical treatments, genetic methodologies such as RNA-interference or gene delivery via lentiviral vectors can be successfully applied to the system permitting mechanistic studies that are very difficult, if not impossible, in animals. In summary, the SCG-based HSV-1 latency / reactivation system provides a powerful, necessary tool to unravel the molecular mechanisms controlling HSV1 latency and reactivation in neurons, a long standing puzzle in virology whose solution may offer fresh insights into developing new therapies that target the latent herpesvirus reservoir.

PMID:
22491318
PMCID:
PMC3466666
DOI:
10.3791/3823
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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