Reactivated varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which lies latent in the dorsal root ganglions and cranial nerves before its reactivation, is capable of causing herpes zoster (HZ), but the specific mechanism of virus reactivation and latency remains unknown. It was proposed that circulating microRNAs (miRNAs) in body fluids could potentially indicate infection. However, the connection between herpes zoster and circulating miRNAs has not been demonstrated. In this study, 41 HZ patients without superinfection were selected. The serum miRNA levels were analyzed by TaqMan low density array (TLDA) and confirmed individually by quantitative reverse transcription PCR (RT-qPCR) analysis. Thirty-five age-matched subjects without any infectious diseases or inflammation were selected as controls. The results showed that the serum miRNA expression profiles in 41 HZ patients were different from those of control subjects. Specifically, 18 miRNAs were up-regulated and 126 were down-regulated more than two-fold in HZ patients compared with controls. The subsequent confirmation of these results by qRT-PCR, as well as receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis, revealed that six kinds of miRNAs, including miR-190b, miR-571, miR-1276, miR-1303, miR-943, and miR-661, exhibited statistically significant enhanced expression levels (more than four-fold) in HZ patients, compared with those of healthy controls and herpes simplex virus (HSV) patients. Subsequently, it is proposed that these circulating miRNAs are capable of regulating numerous pathways and some may even participate in the inflammatory response or nervous system activity. This study has initially demonstrated that the serum miRNA expression profiles in HZ patients were different from those of uninfected individuals. Additionally, these findings also suggest that six of the altered miRNA could be potentially used as biomarkers to test for latent HZ infection.
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