Herpesviruses are ubiquitous pathogens that cause serious diseases in humans and animals. After the initial infection, herpesviruses establish a quiescent (latent) infection, which allows them to remain in the host lifelong. Sporadic reactivation of the virus from latency ensures dissemination to susceptible individuals.
Benedikt Kaufer and his colleagues discovered a new mechanism that allows the maintenance of the viral genome in the host by integrating its genetic material into the telomeres of host chromosomes. One of these herpesviruses is human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), which causes the three-day fever (Roseola Infantum) in infants that can be accompanied by an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Beyond being a childhood disease, HHV-6 is associated with a number of other diseases. In addition, the discovered mechanism allows the integration of the HHV-6 virus in germ cells, resulting in individuals that harbor the virus in every cell of the body. About one percent of the world's population has this condition.
In Dr. Kaufer's ERC project, novel techniques will be used and established to explore this integration mechanism and to develop therapeutic approaches. The scientists want to decipher at a visual and epigenetic level what happens to the viral genome during integration. In addition, they aim to identify the viral and cellular factors that affect integration and reactivation. Their goal is to develop tools for removing the integrated viral genome from the infected cells. The obtained results will be confirmed in an animal model using the Marek’s disease virus, a herpesvirus related to the HHV-6 virus, which infects chickens and also integrates its genome in the host cell telomeres.
The European Research Council selected 291 projects throughout Europe for total grant funding of 429 million euros. Most of the grants went to the UK and Germany with 48 and 47 grants respectively. The next big grant winners are the Netherlands with 32 grants and France with 29.
Prof. Dr. Benedikt Kaufer, Department of Veterinary Medicine, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-51936; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org