Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, Germany
Student: Ana Nascimento, Ph.D. fellow
Supervisor: Prof. Beate Sodeik
In the Sodeik team, we mainly investigate infection by Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV-1). It is the causative agent of what we commonly call cold sores. An asymptomatic primary infection of the mucosa, commonly mouth but also eye or genitalia, results in multiplication of the virus in the epithelial cells that then spread to the sensory nerves in the vicinity. Like other alphaherpesviruses, HSV1 establishes latency in neurons, i.e. it converts into a “standby” mode in the peripheral nervous system. Many factors are known to “reactivate” such latent infections, such as stress caused by an exam or an illness, UV light, hormonal changes, among others. During these incidences, the immune system is weakened and permits the virus to produce progeny virions which exit from the neurons and re-infect the mucosa close to the nerve endings.
A healthy organism doesn’t ignore the effects of this cell-lytic virus, detecting the little ulcers caused by it and triggering anti-inflammatory responses. These involve a complex succession of events by blood cells, including one specific type called macrophages. Besides clearing out pathogens and contributing to tissue restoration, I am studying macrophages because they are not as successfully infected by HSV1.
In my project, I will zoom into macrophages and characterize what provides an antiviral status. Looking into the pathways and mechanisms that cells use for destruction will help me to find ot which of its players affect the virus. Also, cells have developed smart ways of targeting different components of HSV1. I will pay close attention to the viral shell (capsid protein) that holds the viral DNA. In a single sentence, I want to know what in the cells is able to recognize and disassemble this molecular “Trojan horse” before a Greek army takes over.
Beate Sodeik, Professor
Institute of Virology
Hannover Medical School