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Subspecialties Cornea / Ocular Surface, Basic & Translational Research

Baby One More Time

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is not a “one and done” disease. It hides in the body, waiting to strike again. This process is known as reactivation – typically associated with periods of stress, illness, or sunburn – and, left untreated, can result in blindness. But what exactly causes this reactivation? The answer: neuronal hyperexcitation. Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered that the virus hijacks an important immune response: when exposed to prolonged periods of inflammation or stress, the immune system releases interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β), a cytokine present in epithelial cells of the skin and eye and released when those cells are damaged by ultraviolet light. IL-1β increases affected neurons’ excitability, setting the stage for HSV reactivation. Though further studies are needed to fully understand these factors – and establish how they can be used to develop potential therapeutics – the team hope their insights will shed new light on the immune system and, ultimately, help prevent HSV outbreaks.

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  1. S Cuddy et al., ELife, 2, 58037 (2020). PMID: 33350386.

About the Author

Phoebe Harkin

Associate Editor of The Ophthalmologist

I’ve always loved telling stories. So much so, I decided to make a job of it. I finished a Masters in Magazine Journalism and spent three years working as a creative copywriter before itchy feet sent me (back)packing. It took seven months and 13 countries, but I’m now happily settled on The Ophthalmologist, where I’m busy getting stuck into all things eyeballs.

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