ESR11 - Innate immune sensing and restriction of Varicella zoster virus

University of Oxford, UK


Student: Jonny Hertzog, Ph.D. fellow

Supervisor: Prof. Jan Rehwinkel, Ph.D.




Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV), or Human Herpes Virus 3, is an important human pathogen associated with the clinical presentations Varicella (chicken pox) and Zoster (shingles). In the pre-vaccine era, virtually every individual got infected with VZV during childhood presenting as Chicken pox. Primary infection generates life-long immunity against subsequent infections; the same is achieved by the attenuated live virus vaccine. The virus, however, establishes latency in peripheral ganglia. Reactivation due to immunosuppression or declining immune surveillance in older individuals can lead to the occurrence of shingles. The associated morbidity can be severe and irreparable. Furthermore, VZV is part of a group of pathogens that can damage the developing fetus (congenital VZV syndrome). Primary or secondary VZV infections can also lead to life-threatening complications, such as herpes encephalitis.


The clinical features of VZV infection are well described, and a vaccine is licensed for the prevention of chicken pox and shingles. The molecular virology and immunology of VZV, however, remain poorly defined. For an organism to be able to mount an immune response against any pathogen, recognition of infection is crucial. In this project, we aim to characterise the innate immune sensors that recognise infection with VZV. We furthermore want to identify viral proteins that modulate and/or antagonise the innate immune response to VZV. By identifying cellular interaction partners of these proteins, we aim to elaborate on their function as cellular restriction factors.


Ultimately, this research feeds into a better molecular understanding of herpes virology and the development of more effective antiviral drugs.





Contact details

Jan Rehwinkel, Associate Professor of Innate Immunology

MRC Human Immunology Unit

Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine

Radcliffe Department of Medicine

University of Oxford, UK

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