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J Virol. 1990 Sep;64(9):4288-95.

Quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis of herpes simplex virus DNA in ganglia of mice infected with replication-incompetent mutants.

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Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


To study the roles of viral genes in the establishment and maintenance of herpes simplex virus (HSV) latency, we have developed a polymerase chain reaction assay that is both quantitative and sensitive. Using this assay, we analyzed the levels of viral DNA in trigeminal ganglia of mice inoculated corneally with HSV mutants that are defective for virus replication at one or more sites in mice and for reactivation upon ganglionic explant. Ganglia from mice infected with thymidine kinase-negative mutants, which replicate at the site of inoculation and establish latency but do not replicate acutely in ganglia or reactivate upon explant, contained a range of levels of HSV DNA that overlapped with the range found in ganglia latently infected with wild-type virus. On average, these mutant-infected ganglia contained one copy of HSV DNA per 100 cell equivalents (ca. 10(4) molecules), which was 50-fold less than the average for wild-type virus. Ganglia from mice infected with a ribonucleotide reductase deletion mutant, which is defective for acute replication and reactivation upon ganglionic explant, also contained on average one copy of HSV DNA per 100 cell equivalents. We also detected substantial numbers of HSV DNA molecules (up to ca. 10(3] in ganglia of mice infected with an ICP4 deletion mutant and other replication-negative mutants that are severely impaired for viral DNA replication and gene expression. These results raise the possibility that such mutants can establish latency, which could have important implications for mechanisms of latency and for vaccine and antiviral drug development.

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