Reanalysis of single-cell RNA sequencing data does not support herpes simplex virus 1 latency in non-neuronal ganglionic cells in mice

Werner J. D. Ouwendijk, Pavitra Roychoudhury, Anthony L. Cunningham, Keith R. Jerome, David M. Koelle, Paul R. Kinchington, Ian Mohr, Angus C. Wilson, Georges G. M. G. M. Verjans*, Daniel P. Depledge

*Corresponding author for this work

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Most individuals are latently infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), and it is well-established that HSV-1 establishes latency in sensory neurons of peripheral ganglia. However, it was recently proposed that latent HSV-1 is also present in immune cells recovered from the ganglia of experimentally infected mice. Here, we reanalyzed the single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-Seq) data that formed the basis for that conclusion. Unexpectedly, off-target priming in 3’ scRNA-Seq experiments enabled the detection of non-polyadenylated HSV-1 latency-associated transcript (LAT) intronic RNAs. However, LAT reads were near-exclusively detected in mixed populations of cells undergoing cell death. Specific loss of HSV-1 LAT and neuronal transcripts during quality control filtering indicated widespread destruction of neurons, supporting the presence of contaminating cell-free RNA in other cells following tissue processing. In conclusion, the reported detection of latent HSV-1 in non-neuronal cells is best explained using compromised scRNA-Seq datasets. IMPORTANCE Most people are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) during their life. Once infected, the virus generally remains in a latent (silent) state, hiding within the neurons of peripheral ganglia. Periodic reactivation (reawakening) of the virus may cause fresh diseases such as cold sores. A recent study using single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-Seq) proposed that HSV-1 can also establish latency in the immune cells of mice, challenging existing dogma. We reanalyzed the data from that study and identified several flaws in the methodologies and analyses performed that invalidate the published conclusions. Specifically, we showed that the methodologies used resulted in widespread destruction of neurons which resulted in the presence of contaminants that confound the data analysis. We thus conclude that there remains little to no evidence for HSV-1 latency in immune cells.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number4
Early online date6 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

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