Viral sexually transmitted infections account for a significant amount of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes genital herpes, a disease for which there is no vaccine and no cure. HSV begins as a local infection in the epithelial cells of the genital tract and then disseminates into the peripheral nervous system. Once neurons are successfully infected, the virus enters a latent phase and cannot be cleared by the immune system. The Shin lab is interested in elucidating the immune determinants that are required for controlling primary HSV infection in order to prevent establishment of disease.
Using a mouse model of HSV infection, we will examine the initiation and function of protective immune responses in the genital tract, with an emphasis on the role of a local population of cells called tissue-resident memory CD8 T cells (CD8 TRM). As CD8 TRM have been shown to provide superior protection against a number of pathogens within non-lymphoid tissues, we also aim to gain further insight into the basic biology of this population. Finally, using an in vitro culture system of primary neurons, we will examine the capacity of the immune system to promote antiviral defense mechanisms in the peripheral nervous system. Greater understanding of the factors that constitute a protective immune response against HSV will aid in the design of efficacious vaccines against genital herpes and other viral sexually transmitted infections.