Detection of viral DNA in neonatal herpes encephalitis autopsy tissues by solution-phase PCR: comparison with pathology and immunohistochemistry

Brain Pathol. 1993 Jul;3(3):237-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3639.1993.tb00750.x.


To detect DNA sequences of herpes simplex virus (HSV) in neural and non-neural tissue sections in disseminated human neonatal HSV infection, a solution polymerase chain reaction (PCR) protocol was developed which amplified HSV thymidine kinase and host genomic DNA sequences that were hybridized with sequence-specific probes in Southern blots. Serial sections of formalin-fixed, paraffin embedded autopsy tissues were tested by PCR and compared to histology and HSV antigen detection. The sensitivity, specificity and reproducibility of this PCR protocol were determined on uninfected and HSV-infected mouse tissues and on HSV DNA from infected tissue culture cells. Samples estimated to contain as few as 60 copies of preserved HSV DNA target sequence gave a positive PCR result. In nine neonates that died during acute HSV infection, all non-neural tissues and a minority of neural tissues with histological lesions had HSV antigen; when DNA could be amplified, HSV DNA sequences were detected by PCR. Together, these findings indicate a direct role for virus in the pathogenesis of these lesions. In the same cases, some or all brain samples were negative for HSV antigen, but nevertheless had HSV DNA sequences detected by PCR. The possible explanations for this finding are discussed. In one neonate dying seven weeks after birth, HSV sequences were found in brain lesions in the absence of HSV antigen; neither HSV DNA nor antigen were found in non-neural tissues, suggesting a latent HSV infection in brain. It is practical to apply PCR methods to detect minute quantities of viral DNA in formalin-fixed, paraffin embedded autopsy tissues.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Blotting, Southern
  • DNA, Viral / analysis*
  • Encephalitis / microbiology*
  • Encephalitis / pathology
  • Female
  • Herpes Simplex / microbiology*
  • Herpes Simplex / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Simplexvirus / chemistry*
  • Thymidine Kinase / genetics


  • DNA, Viral
  • Thymidine Kinase