Around 80 per cent of Australian adults are infected with herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). The virus causes lifelong infection by laying dormant in sensory nerve cells and, in most cases, it causes mild or no symptoms. However, in immuno-compromised patients and infants, the virus can cause painful and life-threatening infection that can spread throughout the body. While symptoms can be reduced with antiviral treatment, there is no cure for HSV-1 infection.
We study how the virus invades and replicates in nerve cells. We have developed techniques to visualise the virus in nerve cells using fluorescence imaging and electron microscopy. This is helping us to understand how the virus enters and travels along nerve cells and then exits the tip of the nerve to invade skin cells.
Better understanding of the mechanisms used by the HSV will help us develop better antiviral therapy and new vaccines. We also hope that understanding the way the virus enters and spreads in nerves will help us find ways of delivering drugs efficiently to the nervous system.