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J Virol. 2016 Apr 14;90(9):4706-4719. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02908-15. Print 2016 May.

Herpes Simplex Virus and Interferon Signaling Induce Novel Autophagic Clusters in Sensory Neurons.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA


Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) establishes lifelong infection in the neurons of trigeminal ganglia (TG), cycling between productive infection and latency. Neuronal antiviral responses are driven by type I interferon (IFN) and are crucial to controlling HSV-1 virulence. Autophagy also plays a role in this neuronal antiviral response, but the mechanism remains obscure. In this study, HSV-1 infection of murine TG neurons triggered unusual clusters of autophagosomes, predominantly in neurons lacking detectable HSV-1 antigen. Treatment of neurons with IFN-β induced a similar response, and cluster formation by infection or IFN treatment was dependent upon an intact IFN-signaling pathway. The autophagic clusters were decorated with both ISG15, an essential effecter of the antiviral response, and p62, a selective autophagy receptor. The autophagic clusters were not induced by rapamycin or starvation, consistent with a process of selective autophagy. While clusters were triggered by other neurotropic herpesviruses, infection with unrelated viruses failed to induce this response. Following ocular infection in vivo, clusters formed exclusively in the infected ophthalmic branch of the TG. Taken together, our results show that infection with HSV and antiviral signaling in TG neurons produce an unorthodox autophagic response. This autophagic clustering is associated with antiviral signaling, the presence of viral genome, and the absence of HSV protein expression and may therefore represent an important neuronal response to HSV infection and the establishment of latency.


Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is a ubiquitous virus and a significant cause of morbidity and some mortality. It is the causative agent of benign cold sores, but it can also cause blindness and life-threatening encephalitis. The success of HSV-1 is largely due to its ability to establish lifelong latent infections in neurons and to occasionally reactivate. The exact mechanisms by which neurons defend against virus infection is poorly understood, but such defense is at least partially mediated by autophagy, an intracellular pathway by which pathogens and other unwanted cargoes are degraded. The study demonstrates and investigates a new autophagic structure that appears to be specific to the interaction between neurotropic herpesviruses and murine primary sensory neurons. This work may therefore have important implications for our understanding of latency and reactivation.

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