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Herpesvirus latency confers symbiotic protection from bacterial infection


All humans become infected with multiple herpesviruses during childhood. After clearance of acute infection, herpesviruses enter a dormant state known as latency. Latency persists for the life of the host and is presumed to be parasitic, as it leaves the individual at risk for subsequent viral reactivation and disease1. Here we show that herpesvirus latency also confers a surprising benefit to the host. Mice latently infected with either murine gammaherpesvirus 68 or murine cytomegalovirus, which are genetically highly similar to the human pathogens Epstein–Barr virus and human cytomegalovirus2, respectively, are resistant to infection with the bacterial pathogens Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia pestis. Latency-induced protection is not antigen specific but involves prolonged production of the antiviral cytokine interferon-γ and systemic activation of macrophages. Latency thereby upregulates the basal activation state of innate immunity against subsequent infections. We speculate that herpesvirus latency may also sculpt the immune response to self and environmental antigens through establishment of a polarized cytokine environment. Thus, whereas the immune evasion capabilities and lifelong persistence of herpesviruses are commonly viewed as solely pathogenic, our data suggest that latency is a symbiotic relationship with immune benefits for the host.

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Figure 1: Macrophages are activated during γHV68 latency.
Figure 2: Latent herpesvirus infection renders mice resistant to L. monocytogenes.
Figure 3: Latently infected mice are resistant to Y. pestis but not WNV.
Figure 4: Mechanism of enhanced innate immunity in latently infected mice.


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This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (E.S.B., V.L.M. & H.W.V.), an Abbott Scholar Award (D.W.W.) and a Cancer Research Institute postdoctoral fellowship (E.S.B.).

Author Contributions The original hypothesis of the article was formulated by E.S.B. and H.W.V. E.S.B. and D.W.W performed all experiments except those characterizing Y. pestis infection (J.S.C. and V.L.M.) and WNV infection (M.E. and M.S.D.). K.A.B.-M. made the initial observation of chronic IFNγ secretion during latency. The manuscript was written by E.S.B., D.W.W., and H.W.V. and all authors commented on data and conclusions prior to submission.

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Correspondence to Herbert W. Virgin IV.

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Supplementary Figure

This file contains Supplementary Figure S1 illustrating how latent infection with γHV68 or MCMV results in chronic, systemic macrophage activation. (PDF 257 kb)

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Barton, E., White, D., Cathelyn, J. et al. Herpesvirus latency confers symbiotic protection from bacterial infection. Nature 447, 326–329 (2007).

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