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Definition

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Herpes simplex viruses (HSV-1, HSV-2; Herpesvirus hominis) produce a variety of infections involving mucocutaneous surfaces, the central nervous system (CNS), and—on occasion—visceral organs. Prompt recognition and treatment reduce the morbidity and mortality rates associated with HSV infections.

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Etiologic Agent

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The genome of HSV is a linear, double-strand DNA molecule (molecular weight, ∼100 × 106) that encodes >90 transcription units with 84 identified proteins. The genomic structures of the two HSV subtypes are similar. The overall genomic sequence homology between HSV-1 and HSV-2 is ∼50%, while the proteome homology is >80%. The homologous sequences are distributed over the entire genome map, and most of the polypeptides specified by one viral type are antigenically related to polypeptides of the other viral type. Many type-specific regions unique to HSV-1 and HSV-2 proteins do exist, however, and a number of them appear to be important in host immunity. These type-specific regions have been used to develop serologic assays that distinguish between the two viral subtypes. Either restriction endonuclease analysis or sequencing of viral DNA can be used to distinguish between the two subtypes and among strains of each subtype. The variability of nucleotide sequences from clinical strains of HSV-1 and HSV-2 is such that HSV isolates obtained from two individuals can be differentiated by restriction enzyme patterns or genomic sequences. Moreover, epidemiologically related sources, such as sexual partners, mother-infant pairs, or persons involved in a common-source outbreak, can be inferred from such patterns.

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The viral genome is packaged in a regular icosahedral protein shell (capsid) composed of 162 capsomeres (see Fig. 177-1). The outer covering of the virus is a lipid-containing membrane (envelope) acquired as the DNA-containing capsid buds through the inner nuclear membrane of the host cell. Between the capsid and lipid bilayer of the envelope is the tegument. Viral replication has both nuclear and cytoplasmic phases. Initial attachment to the cell membrane involves interactions of viral glycoproteins C and B with several cellular heparan sulfate–like surface receptors. Subsequently, viral glycoprotein D binds to cellular co-receptors that belong to the tumor necrosis factor receptor family of proteins, the immunoglobulin superfamily (nectin family), or both. The ubiquity of these receptors contributes to the wide host range of herpesviruses. Replication is highly regulated. After fusion and entry, the nucleocapsid enters the cytoplasm and several viral proteins are released from the virion. Some of these viral proteins shut off host protein synthesis (by increasing cellular RNA degradation), while others “turn on” the transcription of early genes of HSV replication. These early gene products, designated α genes, are required for synthesis of the subsequent polypeptide group, the β polypeptides, many of which are regulatory proteins and enzymes required for DNA replication. Most current antiviral drugs interfere with β proteins, such as viral DNA polymerase. The third (γ) class of HSV genes requires viral DNA replication for expression and constitutes most structural proteins specified by ...

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