Inherited herpesvirus study finds links to ancient humans
An international study of integrated HHV-6 led by our University has discovered that a small number of human ancestors, one from about 24,000 years ago, have been responsible for transmitting ancient strains of the virus to individuals today – affecting about a million people in the UK alone.
The research team from our Department of Genetics and Genome Biology collected DNA samples from unrelated people who were carriers of the human herpesvirus 6, mostly from the UK and Europe but also from Japan, China and Pakistan. The researchers found that some of the inherited HHV-6 genomes are very similar to each other and are also located in the same chromosome in people having no known family relationship. This showed that the HHV-6 genomes, which the scientists sequenced, originated in a small number of ancestors thousands of years ago.
The researchers also found that most of the inherited HHV-6 genomes are intact and therefore may be able to reactivate as viruses. The study makes an important contribution towards understanding the possible impact of inherited HHV-6 on the 1-2% of the UK population who carry it.
Dr Nicola Royle of our Department of Genetics and Genome Biology, who headed the study, said: “There are two types of HHV-6 (HHV-6A and HHV-6B) that have different biological, immunological, pathological and molecular properties.
"Our new research makes an important contribution towards understanding the possible impact of inherited HHV-6 on people that carry it. We now know that in Europe, and most likely in other populations as well, most inherited HHV-6 genomes have been inherited from a small number of ancestors thousands of years ago and still appear to have the potential to reactivate.”
The work, published in the Journal of Virology, was carried out by staff and students in the Telomere Group, headed by Dr Nicola Royle in the Department of Genetics and Genome Biology in collaboration with Professors Andrew Davison and Ruth Jarrett and their teams in the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research.
The funders included the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund to the University of Leicester. Generation Scotland, funded by the Scottish Government Health Directorates and the Scottish Funding Council was a source for some of the samples used in the study.