Human herpesvirus latency

Brain Pathol. 2001 Oct;11(4):465-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3639.2001.tb00415.x.


Herpesviruses are among the most successful human pathogens. In healthy individuals, primary infection is most often inapparent. After primary infection, the virus becomes latent in ganglia or blood mononuclear cells. Three major subfamilies of herpesviruses have been identified based on similar growth characteristics, genomic structure, and tissue predilection. Each herpesvirus has evolved its own unique ecological niche within the host that allows the maintenance of latency over the life of the individual (e.g. the adaptation to specific cell types in establishing latent infection and the mechanisms, including expression of different sets of genes, by which the virus remains latent). Neurotropic alphaherpesviruses become latent in dorsal root ganglia and reactivate to produce epidermal ulceration, either localized (herpes simplex types 1 and 2) or spread over several dermatomes (varicalla-zoster virus). Human cytomegalovirus, the prototype betaherpesvirus, establishes latency in bone marrow-derived myeloid progenitor cells. Reactivation of latent virus is especially serious in transplant recipients and AIDS patients. Lymphotropic gammaherpesviruses (Epstein-Barr virus) reside latent in resting B cells and reactivate to produce various neurologic complications. This review highlights the alphaherpesvirus, specifically herpes simplex virus type 1 and varicella-zoster virus, and describes the characteristics of latent infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alphaherpesvirinae / genetics
  • Alphaherpesvirinae / pathogenicity
  • Animals
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Ganglia, Sensory / pathology
  • Ganglia, Sensory / physiopathology
  • Ganglia, Sensory / virology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral / physiology
  • Herpesviridae / genetics*
  • Herpesviridae / pathogenicity*
  • Herpesviridae Infections / genetics*
  • Herpesviridae Infections / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Virus Latency / genetics*


  • DNA, Viral