Herpesviruses have evolved exquisite virus-host interactions that co-opt or evade a number of host pathways to enable the viruses to persist. Persistence of human cytomegalovirus (CMV), the prototypical betaherpesvirus, is particularly complex in the host organism. Depending on host physiology and the cell types infected, CMV persistence comprises latent, chronic, and productive states that may occur concurrently. Viral latency is a central strategy by which herpesviruses ensure their lifelong persistence. Although much remains to be defined about the virus-host interactions important to CMV latency, it is clear that checkpoints composed of viral and cellular factors exist to either maintain a latent state or initiate productive replication in response to host cues. CMV offers a rich platform for defining the virus-host interactions and understanding the host biology important to viral latency. This review describes current understanding of the virus-host interactions that contribute to viral latency and reactivation.
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), a betaherpesvirus, persists indefinitely in the human host through poorly understood mechanisms. The UL136 gene is carried within a genetic locus important to HCMV latency termed the UL133/8 locus, which also carries UL133, UL135, and UL138. Previously, we demonstrated that UL136 is expressed as five protein isoforms ranging from 33-kDa to 19-kDa, arising from alternative transcription and, likely, translation initiation mechanisms. We previously showed that the UL136 isoforms are largely dispensable for virus infection in fibroblasts, a model for productive virus replication. In our current work, UL136 has emerged as a complex regulator of HCMV infection in multiple contexts of infection relevant to HCMV persistence: in an endothelial cell (EC) model of chronic infection, in a CD34(+) hematopoietic progenitor cell (HPC) model of latency, and in an in vivo NOD-scid IL2Rγc (null) humanized (huNSG) mouse model for latency. The 33- and 26-kDa isoforms promote replication, while the 23- and 19-kDa isoforms suppress replication in ECs, in CD34(+) HPCs, and in huNSG mice. The role of the 25-kDa isoform is context dependent and influences the activity of the other isoforms. These isoforms localize throughout the secretory pathway, and loss of the 33- and 26-kDa UL136 isoforms results in virus maturation defects in ECs. This work reveals an intriguing functional interplay between protein isoforms that impacts virus replication, latency, and dissemination, contributing to the overall role of the UL133/8 locus in HCMV infection.
The mechanisms by which viruses persist and particularly those by which viruses actively contribute to their own latency have been elusive. Here we report the existence of opposing functions encoded by genes within a polycistronic locus of the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) genome that regulate cell type-dependent viral fates: replication and latency. The locus, referred to as the UL133-UL138 (UL133/8) locus, encodes four proteins, pUL133, pUL135, pUL136, and pUL138. As part of the ULb' region of the genome, the UL133/8 locus is lost upon serial passage of clinical strains of HCMV in cultured fibroblasts and is therefore considered dispensable for replication in this context. Strikingly, we could not reconstitute infection in permissive fibroblasts from bacterial artificial chromosome clones of the HCMV genome where UL135 alone was disrupted. The loss of UL135 resulted in complex phenotypes and could ultimately be overcome by infection at high multiplicities. The requirement for UL135 but not the entire locus led us to hypothesize that another gene in this locus suppressed virus replication in the absence of UL135. The defect associated with the loss of UL135 was largely rescued by the additional disruption of the UL138 latency determinant, indicating a requirement for UL135 for virus replication when UL138 is expressed. In the CD34(+) hematopoietic progenitor model of latency, viruses lacking only UL135 were defective for viral genome amplification and reactivation. Taken together, these data indicate that UL135 and UL138 comprise a molecular switch whereby UL135 is required to overcome UL138-mediated suppression of virus replication to balance states of latency and reactivation.
We previously described a novel genetic locus within the ULb' region of the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) genome that, while dispensable for replication in fibroblasts, suppresses replication in hematopoietic progenitors and augments replication in endothelial cells. This locus, referred to as the UL133-UL138 locus, encodes four proteins, pUL133, pUL135, pUL136, and pUL138. In this work, we have mapped the interactions among these proteins. An analysis of all pairwise interactions during transient expression revealed a robust interaction between pUL133 and pUL138. Potential interactions between pUL136 and both pUL133 and pUL138 were also revealed. In addition, each of the UL133-UL138 locus proteins self-associated, suggesting a potential to form higher-order homomeric complexes. As both pUL133 and pUL138 function in promoting viral latency in CD34(+) hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) infected in vitro, we further focused on this interaction. pUL133 and pUL138 are the predominant complex detected when all proteins are expressed together and require no other proteins in the locus for their association. During infection, the interaction between pUL133 and pUL138 or pUL136 can be detected. A recombinant virus that fails to express both pUL133 and pUL138 exhibited a latency phenotype similar to that of viruses that fail to express either pUL133 or pUL138, indicating that these proteins function cooperatively in latency and do not have independent functions that additively contribute to HCMV latency. These studies identify protein interactions among proteins encoded by the UL133-UL138 locus and demonstrate an important interaction impacting the outcome of HCMV infection.
Recent studies have shown that long-term persistence of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) in mononuclear cells of myeloid lineage is dependent on the UL138 open reading frame, which promotes latent infection. Although T-cell recognition of protein antigens from all stages of lytic HCMV infection is well established, it is not clear whether proteins expressed during latent HCMV infection can also be recognized. This study conducted an analysis of T-cell response towards proteins associated with HCMV latency. Ex vivo analysis of T cells from healthy virus carriers revealed a dominant CD8(+) T-cell response to the latency-associated pUL138 protein, which recognized a non-canonical 13 aa epitope in association with HLA-B*3501. These pUL138-specific T cells displayed a range of memory phenotypes that were in general less differentiated than that previously described in T cells specific for HCMV lytic antigens. Antigen-presentation assays revealed that endogenous pUL138 could be presented efficiently by HCMV-infected cells. However, T-cell recognition of pUL138 was dependent on newly synthesized protein, with little presentation from stable, long-lived protein. These data demonstrate that T cells targeting latency-associated protein products exist, although HCMV may limit the presentation of latent proteins, thereby restricting T-cell recognition of latently infected cells.