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CRISPR Strategy for Herpesviruses

Using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing approach, researchers from the University Medical Center Utrecht have targeted sites in three different herpesviruses to inhibit viral replication.

As Utrecht's Emmanuel Wiertz, Robert Lebbink, and their colleagues report in PLOS Pathogens this week, they used the guide RNAs of the CRISPR/Cas9 system to target essential viral genes in herpes simplex virus type 1, human cytomegalovirus, and Epstein-Barr virus, which respectively cause cold sores, congenital defects, and mononucleosis or even some malignancies.

For instance, for Epstein-Barr virus, the researchers targeted EBNA1, a constitutively expressed gene in EBV-infected cells, and this, they reported, led to a 50 percent to 60 percent decline of latent EBV in their experimental cell line. When they added a second gRNA aimed at a separate part of EBNA1, they observed a 95 percent loss of EBV.

"We could efficiently remove the latent genome from infected cells, essentially curing cells from their invader," Lebbink tells New Scientist.

He and his colleagues similarly targeted genes in HSV-1 and HCV to limit viral replication.

"The findings presented in this study open new avenues for the development of therapeutic strategies to combat pathogenic human herpesviruses using novel genome-engineering technologies," the researchers add in their paper.