A recent study conducted by the San Diego School of Medicine at the University of California found that an immune system receptor can be used by the herpes simplex virus type-1 to increase its prevalence and ability to cause disease in patients.
Researchers found that by binding to receptors on the surface of skin cells, HSV-1 is able to infect the body. In an ideal situation, a virus is detected by the patient's immune system and, in response, the body releases scavenger receptors to identify and eliminate the infection.
However, the report discovered that the receptor macrophage receptor with collagenous structure or MARCO can have the opposite effect. Scientists found that the normal levels of the receptor correlated with increased outbreaks of skin lesions in mice. Conversely, mice that had lower levels of the receptor showed smaller lesions.
This was the first time receptors were shown to have a negative effect on the virus, according to the scientists.
"We would have predicted that MARCO would help resist infection," said Richard Gallo, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator of the report.
HSV-1 can cause cold sores in patients, primarily around the mouth. The lesions can spread to genitals and fingertips, and, in patients with eczema, a spread of the sores to other areas of the skin can become a medical emergency, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can also negatively affect the lungs, liver and brain, and cause pinkeye in some cases.
Scientists expect to follow up on the report by testing the MARCO levels in patients who experience complications with HSV-1. The researchers recommend that therapies be developed to prevent HSC-1-MARCO interaction in order to reduce the risk and seriousness of HSV-1-related complications.