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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science