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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Macrophages and cytokines in the early defence against herpes simplex virus

Svend Ellermann-Eriksen

Author Affiliations

Department of Clinical Microbiology, Aarhus University Hospital, Skejby Sygehus, Brendstrupgaardsvej 100, DK-8200 Aarhus N., Denmark

Virology Journal 2005, 2:59  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-2-59

Published: 3 August 2005

Abstract

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 and 2 are old viruses, with a history of evolution shared with humans. Thus, it is generally well-adapted viruses, infecting many of us without doing much harm, and with the capacity to hide in our neurons for life. In rare situations, however, the primary infection becomes generalized or involves the brain.

Normally, the primary HSV infection is asymptomatic, and a crucial element in the early restriction of virus replication and thus avoidance of symptoms from the infection is the concerted action of different arms of the innate immune response. An early and light struggle inhibiting some HSV replication will spare the host from the real war against huge amounts of virus later in infection. As far as such a war will jeopardize the life of the host, it will be in both interests, including the virus, to settle the conflict amicably. Some important weapons of the unspecific defence and the early strikes and beginning battle during the first days of a HSV infection are discussed in this review.

Generally, macrophages are orchestrating a multitude of anti-herpetic actions during the first hours of the attack. In a first wave of responses, cytokines, primarily type I interferons (IFN) and tumour necrosis factor are produced and exert a direct antiviral effect and activate the macrophages themselves. In the next wave, interleukin (IL)-12 together with the above and other cytokines induce production of IFN-γ in mainly NK cells. Many positive feed-back mechanisms and synergistic interactions intensify these systems and give rise to heavy antiviral weapons such as reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide. This results in the generation of an alliance against the viral enemy.

However, these heavy weapons have to be controlled to avoid too much harm to the host. By IL-4 and others, these reactions are hampered, but they are still allowed in foci of HSV replication, thus focusing the activity to only relevant sites. So, no hero does it alone. Rather, an alliance of cytokines, macrophages and other cells seems to play a central role. Implications of this for future treatment modalities are shortly considered.