Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington have put a name to a group of cells in the immune system that may suppress chronic genital herpes. The cells, known as CD8aa+ T cells, live in the genital skin and mucosa, and may also help to hold the symptoms of genital herpes in check.
Herpes vaccine in the making
Scientists believe this class of cells may aid in the development of a vaccine that could treat and prevent HSV-2, a sexually transmitted disease for which there is currently no vaccination.
"While antiviral treatment is available, the virus often breaks through this barrier and patients can still transmit the infection to others," said Larry Corey, M.D., senior author of the study.
Corey went on to note that herpes transmitted from mother to newborn during childbirth is the leading infection of its kind, and a vaccine could help lower rates of HSV-2.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that 776,000 people in the U.S. contract herpes every year.
The new discovery could also play a role in the prevention of other skin or mucosal infections. Corey stated that this is the first instance of identifying the body's method of preventing outbreaks. The researchers hope to improve the effectiveness of the T cells in order to stop herpes from spreading.
More on CD8aa+ T cells
CD8aa+ T cells help to explain why so many HSV-2 patients are asymptomatic. They are able to identify and contain the virus where the infection occurs. Scientists have previously found these cells in the gut mucosa. The study was conducted with human subjects, which makes this research promising.