Persistence of herpes simplex virus (HSV) DNA in mouse footpad keratinocytes was studied by non-isotopic in situ hybridization. HSV DNA was retained in keratinocyte nuclei for more than 2 weeks after disappearance of infectious virus and viral antigens. The anatomical location of viral DNA became more superficial with increasing time post-infection, reflecting the migration of cells from the basal layer of the epidermis towards the stratum granulosum. Latency-associated transcripts (LATs) were not detected in footpad cells at any of the times studied. In contrast, LATs were detected readily in the nuclei of lumbar ganglionic neurons innervating HSV DNA positive footpads. It was concluded that, after termination of productive infection in the skin, HSV DNA persists transiently in keratinocyte nuclei, in the absence of abundant latency-associated transcription. An implication of these data is that detection of HSV DNA in the skin may reflect recent, but not necessarily current, cutaneous virus replication.


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