Neuronal Subtype Determines Herpes Simplex Virus 1 Latency-Associated-Transcript Promoter Activity during Latency

J Virol. 2018 Jun 13;92(13):e00430-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00430-18. Print 2018 Jul 1.


Herpes simplex virus (HSV) latency in neurons remains poorly understood, and the heterogeneity of the sensory nervous system complicates mechanistic studies. In this study, we used primary culture of adult trigeminal ganglion (TG) mouse neurons in microfluidic devices and an in vivo model to examine the subtypes of sensory neurons involved in HSV latency. HSV-infected neurofilament heavy-positive (NefH+) neurons were more likely to express latency-associated transcripts (LATs) than infected neurofilament heavy-negative (NefH-) neurons. This differential expression of the LAT promoter correlated with differences in HSV-1 early infection that manifested as differences in the efficiency with which HSV particles reached the cell body following infection at the distal axon. In vivo, we further identified a specific subset of NefH+ neurons which coexpressed calcitonin gene-related peptide α (NefH+ CGRP+ neurons) as the sensory neuron subpopulation with the highest LAT promoter activity following HSV-1 infection. Finally, an early-phase reactivation assay showed HSV-1 reactivating in NefH+ CGRP+ neurons, although other sensory neuron subpopulations were also involved. Together, these results show that sensory neurons expressing neurofilaments exhibit enhanced LAT promoter activity. We hypothesize that the reduced efficiency of HSV-1 invasion at an early phase of infection may promote efficient establishment of latency in NefH+ neurons due to initiation of the antiviral state preceding arrival of the virus at the neuronal cell body. While the outcome of HSV-1 infection of neurons is determined by a broad variety of factors in vivo, neuronal subtypes are likely to play differential roles in modulating the establishment of latent infection.IMPORTANCE Two pivotal properties of HSV-1 make it a successful pathogen. First, it infects neurons, which are immune privileged. Second, it establishes latency in these neurons. Together, these properties allow HSV to persist for the lifetime of its host. Neurons are diverse and highly organized cells, with specific anatomical, physiological, and molecular characteristics. Previous work has shown that establishment of latency by HSV-1 does not occur equally in all types of neurons. Our results show that the kinetics of HSV infection and the levels of latency-related gene expression differ in certain types of neurons. The neuronal subtype infected by HSV is therefore a critical determinant of the outcome of infection and latency.

Keywords: herpes simplex virus; latency; neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide / metabolism
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / physiology*
  • Intermediate Filaments / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / cytology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / virology
  • Virus Latency


  • Calca protein, mouse
  • MicroRNAs
  • latency associated transcript, herpes simplex virus-1
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide