Dr. Luis M. Schang and his team of researchers from the Baker Institute for Animal Health recently discovered a mechanism that controls the alternating active and dormant infection stages of the herpes virus. This virus causes both genital sores and cold sores. In newborns, the virus causes corneal blindness and encephalitis.
In Schang’s team, Esteban Flores Cortes and Mi Yao Hu learned that the virus changes between the lytic and latent stages, depending on how tightly its DNA is packed into chromatin. Herpes only causes problems because it reactivates from its latency stage. This is why there is no vaccine yet and established antivirals cannot eliminate it.
Treatment for herpes has been present since the 1960s. Even so, a vaccine or a complete cure has not been formulated yet.
With the knowledge they discovered, scientists can explore the exchange between the host cells and the virus that ascertains whether the viral DNA is manifested. Their new knowledge opens new doors for exploring how herpes wakes up after dormancy. The virus’ ability to become dormant makes it difficult for effective antiviral drugs and vaccines to surface.