Towards a cure for herpesvirus infection with CRISPR/Cas9

Bovine herpesvirus Most adults carry multiple herpesviruses. Following the initial acute infection, these viruses establish life-long infections in their hosts and cause cold sores, keratitis, genital herpes, shingles, infectious mononucleosis, and other diseases. Some herpesviruses can cause cancer in man. During the latent phase of infection, the viruses remain dormant for long periods of time, but retain the capacity to cause occasional reactivations, that may lead to disease. This new study suggests that attacking herpesvirus DNA with CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology can suppress virus replication and, in some cases, lead to elimination of the virus from infected cells.

The snag? Well this is a purely in vitro study in cultured cell, not even an animal model. Will this approach be safe and effecting in humans? It will take some years to find that out.

 

CRISPR/Cas9-Mediated Genome Editing of Herpesviruses Limits Productive and Latent Infections. (2016) PLoS Pathog 12(6): e1005701. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005701

Herpesviruses infect the majority of the human population and can cause significant morbidity and mortality. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 causes cold sores and herpes simplex keratitis, whereas HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes. Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is the most common viral cause of congenital defects and is responsible for serious disease in immuno-compromised individuals. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is associated with infectious mononucleosis and a broad range of malignancies, including Burkitt’s lymphoma, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and post-transplant lymphomas. Herpesviruses persist in their host for life by establishing a latent infection that is interrupted by periodic reactivation events during which replication occurs. Current antiviral drug treatments target the clinical manifestations of this productive stage, but they are ineffective at eliminating these viruses from the infected host. Here, we set out to combat both productive and latent herpesvirus infections by exploiting the CRISPR/Cas9 system to target viral genetic elements important for virus fitness. We show effective abrogation of HCMV and HSV-1 replication by targeting gRNAs to essential viral genes. Simultaneous targeting of HSV-1 with multiple gRNAs completely abolished the production of infectious particles from human cells. Using the same approach, EBV can be almost completely cleared from latently infected EBV-transformed human tumor cells. Our studies indicate that the CRISPR/Cas9 system can be effectively targeted to herpesvirus genomes as a potent prophylactic and therapeutic anti-viral strategy that may be used to impair viral replication and clear latent virus infection.

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