Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology


Infectious Diseases and Immunology

First Thesis Advisor

Evelyn Kurt-Jones, PhD

Second Thesis Advisor

Robert Finberg, MD


HSV1, reactivation, C21orf91, replication


Numerous factors that affect herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1)-mediated pathogenesis have been identified. Such factors directly impact the replication of HSV1 as well as modulate host immune responses following HSV1 infection. In this work, I characterize how HSV1 replication is impacted by expression of the protein encoded by C21orf91, or “Cold Sore Susceptibility Gene” (CSSG1), that has been linked to HSV1 reactivation in humans.

I investigated expression of CSSG1 mRNA expression in various tissues and found that CSSG1 mRNA was present in several tissues of importance in HSV1 disease, including brain, trigeminal ganglia (TG), cornea and spleen. Western blot analysis demonstrated that CSSG1 protein is expressed in human cells. Subcellular fractionation analysis reveals that CSSG1 is predominantly found in the cell nucleus, where it colocalizes with chromatin and with Tip60, a chromatin-binding histone modifying protein that has been shown to be essential for the replication of herpesviruses. I also discovered that CSSG1 is present in the cytosol of cells where it forms large cytosolic aggregates in presence of TRAF6, a downstream adapter that plays an important role in innate immune receptor signaling.

To determine if CSSG1 directly impacts viral replication, I generated CSSG1 knockdown human cell lines. I found that HSV1 replication was reduced in CSSG1 knockdown cells compared to control cells, whereas replication of the unrelated virus, vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), was not affected by knockdown of CSSG1. I demonstrate that CSSG1 was necessary for efficient expression of HSV1 viral proteins during infection. Western blot analysis and measurement of expression of HSV1 proteins expressed at various stages of viral replication illustrates that CSSG1 was required for HSV1 replication at very early stage of infection. I also noted that CSSG1 expression impacted the DNA damage response in HSV1 infected cells. Levels of H2AX phosphorylation, a marker of the DNA damage response, were increased in HSV1-infected CSSG1 knockdown cells compared to control cells. DNA damage responses are thought to promote HSV1 reactivation from latency and HSV1 gene expression, indicating a potential mechanism for role of CSSG1 in HSV1 replication through modulating the DNA damage response.

Overall, my work demonstrates that CSSG1 affects HSV1 replication and provides insight on how CSSG1 polymorphisms in humans could affect HSV1 reactivation and replication to promote cold sores. These discoveries may also lead to a better understanding of pathogenesis of other herpesviruses in humans.



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Available for download on Wednesday, January 11, 2023