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J Virol. 1998 Jul;72(7):5343-50.

The latent herpes simplex virus type 1 genome copy number in individual neurons is virus strain specific and correlates with reactivation.

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Division of Infectious Diseases, Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229-3039, USA.


The viral genetic elements that determine the in vivo reactivation efficiencies of fully replication competent wild-type herpes simplex virus (HSV) strains have not been identified. Among the common laboratory strains, KOS reactivates in vivo at a lower efficiency than either strain 17syn+ or strain McKrae. An important first step in understanding the molecular basis for this observation is to distinguish between viral genetic factors that regulate the establishment of latency from those that directly regulate reactivation. Reported here are experiments performed to determine whether the reduced reactivation of KOS was associated with a reduced ability to establish or maintain latent infections. For comparative purposes, latent infections were quantified by (i) quantitative PCR on DNA extracted from whole ganglia, (ii) the number of latency-associated transcript (LAT) promoter-positive neurons, using KOS and 17syn+ LAT promoter-beta-galactosidase reporter mutants, and (iii) contextual analysis of DNA. Mice latently infected with 17syn+-based strains contained more HSV type 1 (HSV-1) DNA in their ganglia than those infected with KOS strains, but this difference was not statistically significant. The number of latently infected neurons also did not differ significantly between ganglia latently infected with either the low- or high-reactivator strains. In addition to the number of latent sites, the number of viral genome copies within the individual latently infected neurons has recently been demonstrated to be variable. Interestingly, neurons latently infected with KOS contained significantly fewer viral genome copies than those infected with either 17syn+ or McKrae. Thus, the HSV-1 genome copy number profile is viral strain specific and positively correlates with the ability to reactivate in vivo. This is the first demonstration that the number of HSV genome copies within individual latently infected neurons is regulated by viral genetic factors. These findings suggest that the latent genome copy number may be an important parameter for subsequent induced reactivation in vivo.

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