COLUMBUS, Ohio -- New research in mice shows that changes in social interactions can stimulate a dormant herpes virus to resurface.
In a series of experiments, 40 percent of mice with latent herpes had their virus reactivated when their social structure was reorganized, leading to conflicts among the mice.
The herpes virus was most prevalent in the dominant mice, who were involved in the most aggressive social interactions.
While the study may have some implications for human health, it also provides researchers with a good animal model to study the relationship between stress and immunity.
"No animal model existed to study and really understand the mechanisms of how the virus works," said Ronald Glaser, professor of medical microbiology and immunology at Ohio State University. "Now that we have the model, we can start analyzing and studying the mechanisms of different kinds of stress and how it can affect virus latency."
This research supports the idea that stressful life events, such as changes in leadership at the workplace, can significantly suppress the immune system and increase the incidence of infectious diseases.
"When a new boss comes in, people worry if their position will be the same, if the order of dominance will change," Glaser said. "We think that's what is going on when we socially reorganize these mice."