Latency establishment is the hallmark feature of herpesviruses, a group of viruses, of which nine are known to infect humans. They have co-evolved alongside their hosts, and mastered manipulation of cellular pathways and tweaking various processes to their advantage. As a result, they are very well adapted to persistence. The members of the three subfamilies belonging to the family Herpesviridae differ with regard to cell tropism, target cells for the latent reservoir, and characteristics of the infection. The mechanisms governing the latent state also seem quite different. Our knowledge about latency is most complete for the gammaherpesviruses due to previously missing adequate latency models for the alpha and beta-herpesviruses. Nevertheless, with advances in cell biology and the availability of appropriate cell-culture and animal models, the common features of the latency in the different subfamilies began to emerge. Three criteria have been set forth to define latency and differentiate it from persistent or abortive infection: 1) persistence of the viral genome, 2) limited viral gene expression with no viral particle production, and 3) the ability to reactivate to a lytic cycle. This review discusses these criteria for each of the subfamilies and highlights the common strategies adopted by herpesviruses to establish latency.
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