Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) exists indefinitely in infected individuals by a yet poorly characterized latent infection in hematopoietic cells. We previously demonstrated a requirement for the putative UL138 open reading frame (ORF) in promoting a latent infection in CD34(+) hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) infected in vitro. In our present study, we have identified two coterminal transcripts of 2.7 and 3.6 kb and a 21-kilodalton (kDa) protein (pUL138) that are derived from the UL138 locus with early-late gene kinetics during productive infection. The UL138 transcripts and protein are detected in both fibroblasts and HPCs. A recombinant virus, FIX-UL138(STOP), that synthesizes the UL138 transcripts but not the protein exhibited a partial loss-of-latency phenotype in HPCs, similar to the phenotype observed for the UL138-null recombinant virus. This finding suggests that the UL138 protein is required for latency, but it does not exclude the possibility that the UL138 transcripts or other ORFs also contribute to latency. The mechanisms by which pUL138 contributes to latency remain unknown. While the 86- and 72-kDa immediate-early proteins were not detected in HPCs infected with HCMV in vitro, pUL138 did not function directly to suppress expression from the major immediate-early promoter in reporter assays. Interestingly, pUL138 localizes to the Golgi apparatus in infected cells but is not incorporated into virus particles. The localization of pUL138 to the Golgi apparatus suggests that pUL138 contributes to HCMV latency by a novel mechanism. pUL138 is the first HCMV protein demonstrated to promote an infection with the hallmarks of latency in CD34(+) HPCs.
Clinical strains of HCMV encode 20 putative ORFs within a region of the genome termed ULb' that are postulated to encode functions related to persistence or immune evasion. We have previously identified ULb'-encoded pUL138 as necessary, but not sufficient, for HCMV latency in CD34+ hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) infected in vitro. pUL138 is encoded on polycistronic transcripts that also encode 3 additional proteins, pUL133, pUL135, and pUL136, collectively comprising the UL133-UL138 locus. This work represents the first characterization of these proteins and identifies a role for this locus in infection. Similar to pUL138, pUL133, pUL135, and pUL136 are integral membrane proteins that partially co-localized with pUL138 in the Golgi during productive infection in fibroblasts. As expected of ULb' sequences, the UL133-UL138 locus was dispensable for replication in cultured fibroblasts. In CD34+ HPCs, this locus suppressed viral replication in HPCs, an activity attributable to both pUL133 and pUL138. Strikingly, the UL133-UL138 locus was required for efficient replication in endothelial cells. The association of this locus with three context-dependent phenotypes suggests an exciting role for the UL133-UL138 locus in modulating the outcome of viral infection in different contexts of infection. Differential profiles of protein expression from the UL133-UL138 locus correlated with the cell-type dependent phenotypes associated with this locus. We extended our in vitro findings to analyze viral replication and dissemination in a NOD-scid IL2Rγ(c) (null)-humanized mouse model. The UL133-UL138(NULL) virus exhibited an increased capacity for replication and/or dissemination following stem cell mobilization relative to the wild-type virus, suggesting an important role in viral persistence and spread in the host. As pUL133, pUL135, pUL136, and pUL138 are conserved in virus strains infecting higher order primates, but not lower order mammals, the functions encoded likely represent host-specific viral adaptations.
The establishment of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) latency and persistence relies on the successful infection of hematopoietic cells, which serve as sites of viral persistence and contribute to viral spread. Here, using blocking antibodies and pharmacological inhibitors, we document that HCMV activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and downstream phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI (3)K) mediates viral entry into CD34+ human progenitor cells (HPCs), resulting in distinct cellular trafficking and nuclear translocation of the virus compared to other immune cells, such as we have documented in monocytes. We argue that the EGFR allows HCMV to regulate the cellular functions of these replication-restricted cells via its signaling activity following viral binding. In addition to regulating HCMV entry/trafficking, EGFR signaling may also shape the early steps required for the successful establishment of viral latency in CD34+ cells, as pharmacological inhibition of EGFR increases the transcription of lytic IE1/IE2 mRNA, while curbing the expression of latency-associated UL138 mRNA. EGFR signaling following infection of CD34+ HPCs may also contribute to changes in hematopoietic potential, as treatment with the EGFRK inhibitor AG1478 alters the expression of the cellular hematopoietic cytokine IL-12 in HCMV-infected, but not in mock-infected cells. These findings, along with our previous work in monocytes, suggest that EGFR likely serves as an important determinant of HCMV tropism for select subsets of hematopoietic cells. Moreover, our new data suggest that EGFR is a key receptor for efficient viral entry and that the ensuing signaling regulates important early events required for successful infection of CD34+ HPCs by HCMV.
Of the many research challenges posed by human cytomegalovirus latency, perhaps the most notable is the requirement for primary hematopoietic cell culture. Culturing hematopoietic subpopulations while maintaining physiological relevance must be given utmost consideration. We describe a long-standing primary CD34(+) hematopoietic progenitor cell (HPCs) system as an experimental model to study human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) latency and reactivation. Key aspects of our model include infection of primary human CD34(+) HPCs prior to ex vivo expansion, maintenance of undifferentiated cells in a long-term culture with a stromal cell support, and an assay to quantitate infectious centers produced prior to and following a reactivation stimulus. Our method offers a unique way to quantitatively assess HCMV latency and reactivation to study the contribution of viral and host genes in latency and reactivation.
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infects a variety of cell types in humans, resulting in a varied pathogenesis in the immunocompromised host. Endothelial cells (ECs) are considered an important target of HCMV infection that may contribute to viral pathogenesis. Although the viral determinants important for entry into ECs are well defined, the molecular determinants regulating postentry tropism in ECs are not known. We previously identified the UL133-UL138 locus encoded within the clinical strain-specific ULb' region of the HCMV genome as important for the latent infection in CD34(+) hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs). Interestingly, this locus, while dispensable for replication in fibroblasts, was required for efficient replication in ECs infected with the TB40E or fusion-inducing factor X (FIX) HCMV strains. ECs infected with a virus lacking the entire locus (UL133-UL138(NULL) virus) complete the immediate-early and early phases of infection but are defective for infectious progeny virus production. ECs infected with UL133-UL138(NULL) virus exhibited striking differences in the organization of intracellular membranes and in the assembly of mature virions relative to ECs infected with wild-type (WT) virus. In UL133-UL138(NULL) virus-infected ECs, Golgi stacks were disrupted, and the viral assembly compartment characteristic of HCMV infection failed to form. Further, progeny virions in UL133-UL138(NULL) virus-infected ECs inefficiently acquired the virion tegument and secondary envelope. These defects were specific to infection in ECs and not observed in fibroblasts infected with UL133-UL138(NULL) virus, suggesting an EC-specific requirement for the UL133-UL138 locus for late stages of replication. To our knowledge, the UL133-UL138 locus represents the first cell-type-dependent, postentry tropism determinant required for viral maturation.