Herpes virus yields up genetic secrets

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Herpes simplex virus – the virus that causes cold sores – is more complex than scientists had thought, a new study finds.

It had been believed that there were about 80 so-called open reading frames in the herpes gene, but there now appear to be 284, researchers report. Those are places where the DNA becomes proteins.

"The new findings now make it possible to study the individual genes of the virus much more precisely than before," researcher Lars Dölken said in a news release from the Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany. He is head of virology at the university.

These findings also have implications for the development of immunological therapies to treat certain tumours, such as melanoma, the researchers believe.

Herpes simplex virus 1 is known to cause cold sores and also life-threatening pneumonia in patients in intensive care units, the researchers say in background notes. In rare cases, the virus can cause encephalitis, which can lead to permanent brain damage.

Once you're infected with the virus, it will stay in your body's cells for life, becoming active only occasionally.

The report was published on 27 April in the journal Nature Communications.

Image credit: Getty

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