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Release: March 14, 1999

UI researcher receives grant to study herpes infection

IOWA CITY, Iowa – A University of Iowa Health Care researcher has received a five-year $905,476 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue his investigation of the herpes simplex virus.

Richard J. Roller, Ph.D., UI assistant professor of microbiology, is researching, "The Role of UL34 in Herpes Simplex Virus Infection."

Herpes simplex viruses infect the majority of the adult population. In many infected people, these viruses cause painful lesions around either the mouth or genitals. In people with immature or impaired immune systems -- such as newborn babies, cancer therapy and transplant patients, and people with AIDS -- the virus can infect other organs and cause extremely painful and life-threatening diseases.

Roller and researchers in his lab want to identify and characterize processes that are essential for virus replication and are carried out by virus proteins. The investigators hope that interfering with these processes will inhibit virus replication without harming uninfected cells and tissues.

"Like all viruses, herpes simplex viruses reproduce by entering healthy cells, hijacking the normal cellular machinery to make viral components, and then exiting from the cell," Roller said. "The central problem in developing safe and effective anti-viral therapies is that the virus uses the cellular machinery for many steps of its replication, and interference with those steps will be harmful to healthy, uninfected cells in the host."

The NIH has funded Roller's studies of how herpes viruses get out of an infected cell after replication. The first step in herpes simplex virus exit is called envelopment and occurs when the virus nucleocapsid (a complex of virus DNA and protein) wraps itself in a small patch of the nuclear membrane.

"We have identified a virus protein called UL34 that is essential for envelopment and are working to identify the means by which it mediates wrapping of the virus capsid," Roller said. "The envelopment process mediated by UL34 is used not only by herpes simplex viruses, but by all other human herpes viruses including those that cause chicken pox and infectious mononucleosis."

Roller expects that his results can provide the means to identify drugs that interfere with this step in replication of herpes simplex virus and others human herpes viruses.

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