Resistance of herpes simplex viruses to nucleoside analogues: mechanisms, prevalence, and management

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2011 Feb;55(2):459-72. doi: 10.1128/AAC.00615-10. Epub 2010 Nov 15.


Herpes simplex viruses (HSV) type 1 and type 2 are responsible for recurrent orolabial and genital infections. The standard therapy for the management of HSV infections includes acyclovir (ACV) and penciclovir (PCV) with their respective prodrugs valacyclovir and famciclovir. These compounds are phosphorylated by the viral thymidine kinase (TK) and then by cellular kinases. The triphosphate forms selectively inhibit the viral DNA polymerase (DNA pol) activity. Drug-resistant HSV isolates are frequently recovered from immunocompromised patients but rarely found in immunocompetent subjects. The gold standard phenotypic method for evaluating the susceptibility of HSV isolates to antiviral drugs is the plaque reduction assay. Plaque autoradiography allows the associated phenotype to be distinguished (TK-wild-type, TK-negative, TK-low-producer, or TK-altered viruses or mixtures of wild-type and mutant viruses). Genotypic characterization of drug-resistant isolates can reveal mutations located in the viral TK and/or in the DNA pol genes. Recombinant HSV mutants can be generated to analyze the contribution of each specific mutation with regard to the drug resistance phenotype. Most ACV-resistant mutants exhibit some reduction in their capacity to establish latency and to reactivate, as well as in their degree of neurovirulence in animal models of HSV infection. For instance, TK-negative HSV mutants establish latency with a lower efficiency than wild-type strains and reactivate poorly. DNA pol HSV mutants exhibit different degrees of attenuation of neurovirulence. The management of ACV- or PCV-resistant HSV infections includes the use of the pyrophosphate analogue foscarnet and the nucleotide analogue cidofovir. There is a need to develop new antiherpetic compounds with different mechanisms of action.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acyclovir / analogs & derivatives
  • Acyclovir / chemistry
  • Acyclovir / pharmacology
  • Antiviral Agents / chemistry
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Viral*
  • Guanine
  • Herpes Simplex / drug therapy
  • Herpes Simplex / virology
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / drug effects*
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Mutation
  • Nucleosides / chemistry
  • Nucleosides / pharmacology*
  • Prevalence
  • Viral Plaque Assay


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Nucleosides
  • penciclovir
  • Guanine
  • Acyclovir