Researchers learn how herpes virus stores information

A group of international researchers released data on Tuesday that shows how the herpes virus packages its genetic information during infection.

The researchers looked at the basic aspects of how the human cell regulates the herpes virus, which lies dormant in most people. By understanding how the viral DNA behaves in human cell hosts during dormancy and even times of reactivation, scientists could develop drugs able to combat the virus.

"Human cytomegalovirus is a master of human cell biology," Felicia Goodrum of the University of Arizona's immunobiology department, said. "From transcribing DNA into blueprints for proteins to the manufacturing of those proteins, from cell division to cellular metabolism, there is not a process this virus has not tweaked."

The researchers' method focused on identifying key molecules that help the herpes virus unravel its DNA. Since the virus, at the moment, cannot be eliminated, the researchers looked at ways to send it back into dormancy. The researchers identified a key viral protein called IE1, which regulates the packing and unpacking of genetic material and could be a potential target for new therapies.

"If we could inhibit IE1, the virus genome would be packed more tightly with histones, which leaves less DNA accessible and prevents genes from becoming active," Michael Nevels, the Institute for Medical Microbiology and Hygiene at the University of Regensburg, said.

The researchers' findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.