The oral cavity is often the first site where viruses interact with the human body. The oral epithelium is a major site of viral entry, replication and spread to other cell types, where chronic infection can be established. In addition, saliva has been shown as a primary route of person-to-person transmission for many viruses. From a clinical perspective, viral infection can lead to several oral manifestations, ranging from common intraoral lesions to tumors. Despite the clinical and biological relevance of initial oral infection, little is known about the mechanism of regulation of the viral life cycle in the oral cavity. Several viruses utilize host epigenetic machinery to promote their own life cycle. Importantly, viral hijacking of host chromatin-modifying enzymes can also lead to the dysregulation of host factors and in the case of oncogenic viruses may ultimately play a role in promoting tumorigenesis. Given the known roles of epigenetic regulation of viral infection, epigenetic-targeted antiviral therapy has been recently explored as a therapeutic option for chronic viral infection. In this review, we highlight three herpesviruses with known roles in oral infection, including herpes simplex virus type 1, Epstein–Barr virus and Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. We focus on the respective oral clinical manifestations of these viruses and their epigenetic regulation, with a specific emphasis on the viral life cycle in the oral epithelium.
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