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New Study on Herpes Virus Could Lead to New Vaccine


This figure shows how the immune system’s natural killer cells are activated when fighting herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection. Type I interferon signals through inflammatory monocytes which releases a cytokine called IL-18, activating the natural killer cells.

Understanding the immune system’s natural ability to fight herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection could lead to a new vaccine.

A new study from Ali Ashkar’s lab led by Amanda Lee, a researcher at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (IIDR) and at the McMaster Immunology Research Centre (MIRC) has uncovered how the immune system’s natural killer (NK) cells are activated in response to HSV-2 infection, a life-long infection that has no vaccine or cure.

In collaboration with fellow researchers, as well as international colleagues, Lee discovered that HSV-2 releases a protein called type I interferon (IFN) which signals on inflammatory monocytes, white blood cells that fight the virus, to activate NK cells.

NK cells are an important component of the innate immune response as they are rapidly activated upon viral infection and can directly recognize infected cells and eliminate them.

“The current treatment for HSV-2 infection involves the use of antivirals, but this doesn’t cure the condition – it just makes it more manageable,” says Lee. “Our findings may lead to improved therapeutics, and may also help generate a future vaccine for HSV-2.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 417 million people are living with HSV-2 and an estimated 23.6 million people are infected by HSV-2 worldwide per year. More than half are women. HSV-2 infection has also been shown to increase the risk of HIV acquisition.

Lee’s research has been published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.