Current advisor: Haina Shin, PhD
Undergraduate university: Harvard University
The main focus of my project is understanding the differences in the host immune response to HSV-1 vs HSV-2 genital infection. While HSV-1 and HSV-2 both cause genital herpes, patients who have HSV-2 genital herpes experience significantly higher frequency of disease recurrence and transmission compared to patients who have disease caused by HSV-1. Previous studies linked frequency of viral reactivation to reservoirs of latent virus in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) that were consistently larger after HSV-2 genital infection relative to HSV-1. However, it was unknown whether these distinct outcomes were due to intrinsic viral properties or the host response. To explore the contribution of the latter, our lab utilizes murine models of HSV-1 vs HSV-2 vaginal infection. From these comparative studies, we determined that HSV-1 induces an accelerated adaptive immune response relative to HSV-2, better protecting the PNS from viral invasion. Increased neuroprotection was linked to an early burst of NK cell dependent IFN g that was secreted in the vagina one day after HSV-1 but not HSV-2 infection. Currently, I am working on elucidating the upstream signals that drive differential kinetics of NK activation between each model as well as understanding how mucosal IFN g confers increased neuronal resistance to infection. Recently, I have also started exploring the role that this earlier NK cell activation has in limiting genital inflammation and tissue damage after HSV-1 infection..