Herpesviruses and the microbiome

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013 Dec;132(6):1278-86. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2013.02.039. Epub 2013 Apr 20.


The focus of this article will be to examine the role of common herpesviruses as a component of the microbiome of atopic patients and to review clinical observations suggesting that atopic patients might be predisposed to more severe and atypical herpes-related illness because their immune response is biased toward a TH2 cytokine profile. Human populations are infected with 8 herpesviruses, including herpes simplex virus HSV1 and HSV2 (also termed HHV1 and HHV2), varicella zoster virus (VZV or HHV3), EBV (HHV4), cytomegalovirus (HHV5), HHV6, HHV7, and Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (termed KSV or HHV8). Herpesviruses are highly adapted to lifelong infection of their human hosts and thus can be considered a component of the human "microbiome" in addition to their role in illness triggered by primary infection. HSV1 and HSV2 infection and reactivation can present with more severe cutaneous symptoms termed eczema herpeticum in the atopic population, similar to the more severe eczema vaccinatum, and drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms syndrome (DRESS) is associated with reactivation of HSV6 and possibly other herpesviruses in both atopic and nonatopic patients. In this review evidence is reviewed that primary infection with herpesviruses may have an atypical presentation in the atopic patient and conversely that childhood infection might alter the atopic phenotype. Reactivation of latent herpesviruses can directly alter host cytokine profiles through viral expression of cytokine-like proteins, such as IL-10 (EBV) or IL-6 (cytomegalovirus and HHV8), viral encoded and secreted siRNA and microRNAs, and modulation of expression of host transcription pathways, such as nuclear factor κB. Physicians caring for allergic and atopic populations should be aware of common and uncommon presentations of herpes-related disease in atopic patients to provide accurate diagnosis and avoid unnecessary laboratory testing or incorrect diagnosis of other conditions, such as drug allergy or autoimmune disease. Antiviral therapy and vaccines should be administered promptly when indicated clinically.

Keywords: CMV; Cytomegalovirus; DRESS; Drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms; EBNA; Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen; HSV; HSV1; HSV2; Herpes simplex virus; Herpes simplex virus type 1, also known as HHV1 (human herpes virus type 1); Herpes simplex virus type 2, also known as HHV2 (human herpes virus type 2); Hygiene hypothesis; KSV; Kaposi sarcoma virus; VZV (or HHV3); Varicella zoster virus; Viral IL-10–like protein encoded by EBV; genomics; herpes; microbiome; therapy; vIL-10; vaccines.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Herpesviridae / immunology*
  • Herpesviridae Infections / complications
  • Herpesviridae Infections / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / complications
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Immunomodulation
  • Microbiota / immunology*
  • Skin / immunology*
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin / virology