In a recent study, researchers from the University of Wuhan have investigated how infection with the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) can spread to the fetal brain during pregnancy and lead to various neurological developmental disorders and long-term neurological problems into adulthood. Their results were published in the journal “PLOS Pathogen”.
In most cases, herpes infections are not a particular health risk, but during pregnancy they can pose a serious risk to the unborn child.
Herpes viruses of the genus HSV-1 are mainly known as the causative agent of lip herpes, but they can also cause lifelong neurological problems such as cognitive dysfunction, learning disabilities and dementia, the researchers explain. However, it has so far been difficult to assess how the infection affects fetal brain development.
Using three different cell-based models for neurodevelopmental disorders, including a 2D cell layer and a 3D brain structure, the researchers have now tried to understand the effect of the herpes viruses on brain development. The models worked with so-called human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs).
Lip herpes with serious consequences?
“An HSV-1 infection in neural stem cells derived from hiPSCs led to the activation of the apoptotic caspase-3 pathway that initiates programmed cell death,” the researchers reported. And HSV-1 infection has also impaired the production of new neurons and impeded the ability of hiPSC-derived neural stem cells to transform into mature neurons.
In addition, the researchers were able to “detect pathological features of neurodevelopmental disorders in the human fetal brain, including impaired neuronal differentiation and brain structure abnormalities. In addition, the 3D model showed that HSV-1 infection promotes the abnormal proliferation and activation of non-neuronal cells called microglia, accompanied by the activation of various pro-inflammatory molecules (such as TNF-α, IL-6, IL-10 and IL-4).
“This study provides new evidence that HSV-1 infection affects human brain development and may contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders,” the researchers concluded. The findings could also lead to new therapeutic approaches against viruses that are relevant for disorders of neurological development – and not only for HSV-1. (fp)
Herpes infections affect fetal brain development
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