Cold Sores Linked To Genetic Mutation
September 17, 2013

Blame Your Cold Sore On A Genetic Mutation, Scientists Say

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Ever feel a little embarrassed when a cold sore flare up comes around because you've been told its herpes? Well, rest-easy friend because scientists are giving you a much more socially-acceptable excuse by blaming it on a genetic mutation.

About one in five people feel the embarrassment that comes with a cold sore infection, and scientists have had a hard time determining why some people are more prone to the virus than others. However, researchers at the University of Edinburgh wrote in the journal PLOS Pathogens that they have found the link.

Although only 20 percent of people experience the herpes simplex virus type 1 flare-ups, between 80 and 90 percent of people are infected with the virus. The researchers analyzed thousands of genes in order to determine why.

The team set out to look for genes that expressed the proteins needed by the body's immune system to prevent the virus from becoming active and cold sores from developing. They also looked at blood samples from people with cold sores and found that one of the genes previously identified was mutated.

This mutation means that the body was not able to mount an adequate immune response to the virus, which results in cold sores. The gene, known as IL28b, is also linked to treatment responses for hepatitis C patients.

Researchers say that if this gene is mutated in hepatitis C patients, then they are less likely to respond as well to treatment. The link is further evidence that a single genetic mutation can be linked to different viruses.

"Most people carry the cold sore strain of the herpes simplex virus, but until now we never knew why only some of them develop cold sores," said Professor Juergen Haas, of the University of Edinburgh's Division of Pathway Medicine. "Knowing that susceptibility to the virus involved relates to people's genes reinforces the need to research, not only the evolution of viruses themselves, but also the susceptibility of hosts to infection."

Researchers from Columbia University and the University of Miami have given even more reason to find a cure for cold sores after finding that the virus can cause cognitive difficulties. According to the research published in the journal Neurology in March, individuals who have been regularly exposed to herpes simplex type 1 over the years were more likely to have trouble performing cognitive tests than people with histories of low infection levels.