We have investigated the potential of neurotropic microbes to invade the central nervous system (CNS) via the peripheral nervous system. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) strain KH6 and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) strain 186 were found to infect chemosensory neurons in the vomeronasal organ (the pheromone detector) following intranasal inoculation of mice. HSV-1 strain KH6 infection was further transmitted to the accessory olfactory bulb (first relay), the medial amygdala (second relay), and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and the ventromedial hypothalamus (third relay). HSV-1 strain KH6 also targeted the olfactory and trigeminal systems. HSV-2 strain 186 predominantly attacked the brainstem including the trigeminal system. While both viruses did not induce apoptosis in infected chemosensory neurons, they did in infected brain tissue. These results suggest that neurotropic viruses can invade the brain by infecting vomeronasal chemosensory neurons and that the restrained induction of apoptosis in the infected neurons may facilitate viral transmission to the CNS.
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