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prof.dr. Georges Verjans

Brief summary of research over the last five years (max. 200 words) prof.dr. George Verjans
The aims of the Verjans' lab (Erasmus MC) are to elucidate the virus-host interactions of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), varicella zoster virus (VZV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and simian varicella virus (SVV), in humans and non-human primates, respectively. The Verjans lab has developed a novel technology platform that facilitates the ex-vivo phenotyping, in-vitro expansion and host/virus target antigen/epitope discovery and in-situ localization of virus-specific T-cells in clinical specimens. Our group was the first to culture and functional characterize ocular-infiltrating virus-specific T-cells from ocular specimens from patients with HSV-1 and VZV keratitis and uveitis. More recent studies on human cadaveric trigeminal ganglia (TG), the major site of HSV-1 and VZV latency, demonstrated that (1) the breadth and quantity of VZV transcripts increased with extending post-mortem interval; (2) HSV-1, but not VZV-specific T-cells are selectively retained in human TG and (3) human HSV-1-specific TG-infiltrating T-cell responses, involving both CD4 and CD8 T-cells that are juxtaposed to TG neurons, are directed to a limited set of HSV-1 proteins. Studies on EBV are focussed to elucidated the potential detrimental local B- and T-cell response to the virus and neuroantigens in both cerebrospinal fluid and brain biopsies obtained from multiple sclerosis patients (MS). We demonstrated that the local T-cell response, but not B-cell response, in MS patients is directed to EBV and not candidate MS autoantigens. In case of SVV, we have demonstrated that SVV infection of Chinese rhesus macaques lead to SVV latency in ganglia and elicited virus-specific adaptive immunity in the absence of varicella skin rash. More recently, we demonstrated that infection of African green monkeys with a recombinant SVV strain expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein facilitated the visualization of SVV-infected cells with unprecedented specificity and sensitivity in the living animal as well as in tissue samples. Elucidation of the virus & host factors and cell types involved in the 3 elementary phases (i.e., primary, latent and reactivation) of herpesvirus infections in the virus' natural hosts is pivotal for the development of new intervention strategies to prevent and effectively treat herpesvirus infections.