How Does the Genital Herpes Virus Infect Cells? (We Give You the Low-Down)

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“The findings support the following paradigm for HSV entry: HSV gC (HSV-1) or gB (HSV-2) bind to heparan sulfate moieties on syndecan proteoglycans, and this may facilitate the subsequent engagement of a gD coreceptor, typically nectin-1 on epithelial cells, which induces conformational changes.”Dr. Natalia Cheshenko  – The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

The Herpes Virus Does What with What?

The quote above is pretty technical, but in essence, what it is saying is that … in a study, prevention of cellular calcium responses blocked viral entry, and inhibited plaque formation by 90%. The paper underlines the status of research into the mechanism that allows the herpes virus to invade human cells. (1)

The research showed that “calcium release occurs because the viruses activate a critical cell-signaling molecule called Akt at the cell membrane.” (2)

Professor Betsy Herold said “We’ve essentially identified the molecular ‘key’ that herpes viruses use to penetrate cell membranes and infect cells of the human body.”(2) Professor Herold is from the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore.

The discovery of how the herpes virus enters human cells is an important step forward in understanding the pathology of the herpes virus. However, an effective therapy that uses this new knowledge could be years away.

Moreover, there are few drugs currently on the market that help prevent genital herpes outbreaks. In addition, one can transmit the herpes virus to one’s partner even while taking one of the few drugs that do exist.

The CDC states that “antiviral medications can … prevent or shorten outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication. In addition, daily suppressive therapy (i.e., daily use of antiviral medication) for herpes can reduce the likelihood of transmission to partners.” (3)

However, it should be noted that reducing the likelihood and eliminating the likelihood, of transmitting the herpes virus to ones partner are not the same thing.

As WebMD states, “people with no herpes symptoms often shed infectious genital herpes virus – even while taking very high doses of anti-herpes drugs.” (4)

With that said, because researchers were able to discover one of the mechanisms, by which the herpes virus is able to gain entry to cells, they may be able to pursue a new means of preventing cellular entry. As Professor Betsy Herold said “our findings indicate that inhibiting Akt should be a useful therapeutic strategy to pursue.” (2)


(1) Cheshenko N1, Trepanier JB, Stefanidou M, Buckley N, Gonzalez P, Jacobs W, Herold BC. “HSV activates Akt to trigger calcium release and promote viral entry: novel candidate target for treatment and suppression.” FASEB J. 2013 Jul;27(7):2584-99.

(2) – Scientists Reveal Novel Strategy for Stopping Herpes. Apr 5, 2013

(3) – Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet. Page last updated: July 1, 2014

(4) – DeNoon, D. “Genital Herpes Health Center.” Published January 5, 2012.




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