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Viral Infections: Passenger with hazardous baggage

Munich, 05/04/2012

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)not only causes various infectious diseases in man, it can also induce certain types of cancer. Researchers of the LMU have now identified the molecular components that allow EBV to efficiently establish its genome in infected cells.

The family of herpes viruses comprises several members which are responsible for conditions such as chickenpox, shingles and cold sores. Herpes virus infections literally last a lifetime.EBV is a ubiquitous herpes virus, which is the causative agent of infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever), but is also implicated in the development of lymphomas and other types of cancer.

The genetic material of herpes viruses is made up of DNA that stably persists in infected cells. Strikingly,the infectious particles of many herpes viruses also contain specific RNAs transcribed from the viral genome during the preceding infectious cycle, and it has recently become clear that these are delivered to newly infected cells together with the viral DNA.

A research team led by Professor Reinhard Zeidler, of LMU Munich University Hospitals and the Helmholtz Center Munich, has now deciphered the function of these viral RNA molecules. “We were able to show that they allow the virus to manipulate host cell function during the early stages of infection. And this process is clearly essential to ensure that the viral DNA swiftly established within the host cell.” The results thus reveal a new layer of complexity in the life cycle of herpes viruses.

Effective therapies for Epstein-Barr infections have so far been elusive. With funding provided by German Cancer Aid (Deutsche Krebshilfe), Zeidler and his colleagues are currently working to develop a vaccine specifically directed against EBV. Such a vaccine would be of special benefit to immunocompromised patients, who have a relatively higher risk of developing EBV-induced lymphomas than immunocompetent individuals. suwe

RNAs in Epstein-Barr virions control early steps of infection
Jochum S, Ruiss R, Moosmann A, Hammerschmidt W, Zeidler R
PNAS online, 27 April 2012

Professor Reinhard Zeidler
Phone: +49 89 / 7099239
Fax: +49 89 / 7099225

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