A study in the Science Translational Medicine journal discovered a new strategy for overcoming herpes viruses in mice, rabbits and guinea pigs. The new methods looks at the epigenetics of virus using the protein package complexes that determine when genes are turned on and off. When a herpes virus leaves the latent phase, it unbundles its genes inside these protein complexes, so they are turned off and can begin to replicate and spread. Researchers of this study found that when they inhibit an enzyme, LSD1, those genes stay bundled and inactivated remaining in the latent phase. To inhibit the LSD1 enzyme, the researchers used tranylcypromine which is an antidepressant.
This epigenetic method to keep herpes latent seems very effective. For mice, after being given the antidepressant, far fewer mice died or had the virus spreading throughout their body. For guinea pigs, there was a much lower level of lesion recurrences. For rabbits, there were far fewer recurrences and far less shedding of the virus. Potentially, this method is promising for other viruses that go latent such as human immunodeficiency virus and herpes zoster virus.