Study: OPTN Suppresses Growth of Herpes Simplex, Protects Nervous System


Research results show a possible link between herpesviruses and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer disease, ALS, and glaucoma.

When the protein optineurin (OPTN) is present, it helps restrict the spread and growth of HSV-1, herpes simplex, which attacks the nervous system and causes neuronal damage, the results of a new study by the University of Illinois Chicago showed.

“The study also shows there is an impairment of immune response when there is a deficiency in OPTN. OPTN is needed to signal an influx of proper immune cells at the site of infection,” Chandrashekhar Patil, a visiting scholar at UIC’s department of ophthalmology and visual science, said in a statement.

“When you don’t have it, you have issues,” he said.

OPTN is a conserved autophagy receptor, meaning the protein selectively targets HSV-1 proteins and engulfs the particles inside autophagosomes, a tiny vessel, to stop the spread.

Investigators used mice without the OPTN gene and found that the virus grew more in the mice’s brains, which killed local neurons and led to the animal’s death. Herpesviruses can infect the natural nervous system but is suppressed by OPTN before it can do damage.

However, HSV-1 can become fatal for individuals who are immunocompromised because of the lack of OPTN in their bodies.

Because the nerve is targeted, there could be a connection between herpesvirus and neurodegenerative diseases.

Animals without OPTN in the study lost the ability to recognize objects after 30 days, which could be an indication of accelerated neuronal damage.

Investigators think that the findings will apply to all 8 human herpesviruses and that further research can show a possible link among herpesviruses and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and glaucoma.

Additional studies are being planned to examine mutations in OPTN, such as the ones in ALS glaucoma, and how they affect neuronal health.


UIC researchers find evidence of possible link between herpes simplex and neurogenerative diseases. EurekAlert. News release. September 13, 2021. Accessed September 14, 2021.

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