Scientists hope that research into this effect will help to make the first cure for the virus.
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Is broccoli good for herpes?
German molecular biologists have seen for the first time how the herpes virus penetrates human cells and suppresses its immune system.
These observations helped to find out that broccoli extract and experimental medicine for kidney disease slow down the infection, researchers reported in an article published by the scientific journal Nature Communications.
"We have visualized the changes that occur in the operation of each gene - in the cells where the virus has penetrated. These observations helped us to understand that the inclusion of the NRF2 gene was associated with the slow development of the infection and increased resistance to virus attacks."
Said one of the authors, a biologist from the Max Delbruck Molecular Medicine Center (Germany), Vedran Franke.
The herpes virus is one of the most common pathogens on Earth. The first subtype of the virus, hsv-1, affects the lips, and the second, hsv-2, mainly affects the human genitals. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the first subspecies of herpes has infected more than half of the world's adult population.
Herpes, especially hsv-1, has long been considered a harmless virus, but in recent years there has been evidence that it may be associated with Alzheimer's disease, encephalitis, some forms of genital cancer and a number of other dangerous diseases.
The situation is complicated by the fact that herpes vaccine does not yet exist, and therefore a person remains infected with the virus throughout his or her life.
Franke and his colleagues have taken a great step towards solving this problem by observing how herpes penetrated into single fibroblasts, the cells of human skin.
To do this, they counted the number of copies of the virus inside the cells and monitored how the activity of certain human genes and the pathogen itself changed after herpes entered the nutrient medium and into the cells.
Observing such shifts, scientists hoped to understand which parts of the genome are responsible for the response to virus attacks and how hsv-1 suppresses their work or remains invisible to cellular defense systems.
In total, scientists infected more than 12,000 single skin cells and tracked changes in the activity of more than 3,000 genes.
As measurements have shown, the virus did not start to multiply inside the skin cells immediately. In the first hours after its penetration, the number of copies of the virus inside them remained very low, and most of the virus genes did not manifest themselves in the life of fibroblasts.
What happened to the victims of hsv-1 in the following hours depended on the activity of the gene chain, which is associated with the work of the NRF2 protein.
According to scientists, this enzyme is responsible for the reaction of cells to inflammation and a high level of chemically aggressive molecules inside them. It includes dozens of other genes and forces them to produce antioxidants that neutralize this threat and protect DNA from damage.
Disorders are particularly associated with kidney failure, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.
Guided by this idea, researchers have tried to suppress the development of the virus, using the drug RTA-402, an experimental cure for kidney disease, as well as sulforaphane - a similar substance that is present in large quantities in broccoli and other types of cabbage.
Both of these stimulators have markedly slowed down the spread of the virus, dramatically reducing the number of viral agents that produced already infected cells and protecting a significant proportion of healthy skin fibroblasts from herpes attacks.
Scientists hope that further study of this chain of genes and similar drugs will make it possible to create the first cure for herpes.