What is shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the nerve cells near the spinal cord and can reactivate later in life, causing shingles.


The reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus typically occurs when the immune system becomes weakened or compromised due to factors such as aging, stress, illness, or certain medications. As the virus reactivates, it travels along the sensory nerves to the skin, where it causes a painful rash typically localized to one side of the body or face.


What is the relationship between shingles and oxidative stress?

The relationship between shingles (herpes zoster) and oxidative stress involves a complex interplay between the immune system, viral replication, inflammation, and oxidative damage. Here are some key points about their relationship:


  • Immune Response: During a shingles outbreak, the immune system responds to the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) by triggering an inflammatory response. Immune cells release cytokines and chemokines to combat the virus, leading to the recruitment of immune cells to the affected area. This immune response generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) as part of the antimicrobial defense mechanism.


  • Viral Replication: The replication of VZV during a shingles outbreak can contribute to oxidative stress. Viral replication requires energy and resources from host cells, which can lead to mitochondrial dysfunction and the generation of ROS as byproducts of cellular metabolism. Additionally, VZV infection can induce oxidative stress in host cells through various mechanisms, including the activation of inflammatory pathways and disruption of cellular redox balance.


  • Inflammation: Inflammation plays a central role in the pathogenesis of shingles and can contribute to oxidative stress. The release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines during the immune response to VZV infection activates oxidative stress pathways, leading to the production of ROS and oxidative damage to tissues. Chronic inflammation associated with shingles can further exacerbate oxidative stress and tissue injury.


  • Tissue Damage: Oxidative stress resulting from shingles infection can cause damage to cellular components such as lipids, proteins, and DNA. ROS and RNS can oxidize lipids in cell membranes, leading to membrane damage and cell death. Oxidative modification of proteins can impair their function and disrupt cellular signaling pathways. DNA damage induced by oxidative stress can contribute to genomic instability and cell dysfunction.


  • Complications: Oxidative stress associated with shingles infection may contribute to the development of complications such as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a persistent pain condition that can occur after the acute phase of shingles resolves. Oxidative damage to nerves and neurons may play a role in the pathogenesis of PHN by sensitizing pain pathways and impairing nerve function.


Overall, oxidative stress is intertwined with the pathophysiology of shingles and can influence disease progression, tissue damage, and the development of complications.