The reason some people get cold sores may be genetic

New understanding of the herpes simplex virus may lead more effective treatment Photo: Euthman, Flickr

WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013- Medical researchers are closer to understanding why some people are more prone to cold sores than others. Although between 80 and 90 percent of the population carry the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), only a fraction of people—around 20 percent—regularly get cold sores.

“Most people carry the cold sore strain of the herpes simplex virus, but until now we never knew why only some of them develop cold sores,” said Professor Juergen Haas of the University of Edinburgh, lead author of the study, in a news release.

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The answer appears to be a mutation in a gene that manufactures a protein required by the body’s immune system to block the herpes virus from becoming active and cold sores from developing.

Research was conducted at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where scientists analyzed thousands of genes and identified several that express the protein that inhibits HSV-1 from becoming active. Haas and his team then took blood samples from 20 patients with cold sores and examined the genes previously identified.

Publishing their findings in the journal PLoS Pathogens, the authors of the study found that one of the genes they had previously identified, IL28b, was consistently mutated in patients with cold sores. 

Presenting further evidence that a single gene mutation can be linked to a number of different viruses, patients with a mutation in IL28b have previously been shown to have a lower likelihood of responding to hepatitis C treatment, according to Haas.

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The research may lead to the development of new treatments for cold sores and other more serious infections caused by HSV-1 in the brain, genital tract, and eyes.

Finding a treatment for HSV-1 has received a lot of attention lately after researchers from the University of Miami and Columbia University published a study in the journal Neurology in March concluding that patients chronically exposed to HSV-1 over a period of years had more trouble performing cognitive tasks and tests than those with low infection rates.

HSV-1 has also been increasingly found to be a cause of genital herpes, usually associated with HSV-2 in the past. “Co-infection with HSV-2 is a major contributor to HIV transmission,” wrote the study authors. “A better understanding of HSV-1/HSV-2 disease has wide implications for global healthcare.” 


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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.


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