ABSTRACT: Rta, encoded primarily by open reading frame 50, is well conserved among gammaherpesviruses. It has been shown that the Rta proteins of Epstein Barr virus (EBV), Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV, or HHV-8), and murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV-68; also referred to as gamma HV68) play an important role in viral reactivation from latency. However, the role of Rta during productive de novo infection has not been characterized in gammaherpesviruses. Since there are cell lines that can support efficient productive de novo infection by MHV-68 but not EBV or KSHV, we examined whether MHV-68 Rta plays a role in initiating viral lytic replication in productively infected cells. Rta, functioning as a transcriptional activator, can activate the viral promoter of early lytic genes. The amino acid sequence alignments of the Rta homologues suggest that the organizations of their functional domains are similar, with the DNA binding and dimerization domains at the N terminus and the trans-activation domain at the C terminus. We constructed two mutants of MHV-68 Rta, Rd1 and Rd2, with deletions of 112 and 243 amino acids from the C terminus, respectively. Rd1 and Rd2 could no longer trans-activate the promoter of MHV-68 gene 57, consistent with the deletions of their trans-activation domains at the C terminus. Furthermore, Rd1 and Rd2 were able to function as dominant-negative mutants, inhibiting trans-activation of wild-type Rta. To study whether Rd1 and Rd2 blocked viral lytic replication, purified virion DNA was cotransfected with Rd1 or Rd2 into fibroblasts. Expression of viral lytic proteins was greatly suppressed, and the yield of infectious viruses was reduced up to 10(4)-fold. Stable cell lines constitutively expressing Rd2 were established and infected with MHV-68. Transcription of the immediate-early gene, rta, and the early gene, tk, of the virus was reduced in these cell lines. The presence of Rd2 also led to attenuation of viral lytic protein expression and virion production. The ability of Rta dominant-negative mutants to inhibit productive infection suggests that the trans-activation function of Rta is essential for MHV-68 lytic replication. We propose that a single viral protein, Rta, governs the initiation of MHV-68 lytic replication during both reactivation and productive de novo infection.
Journal of Virology 11/2001; 75(19):9262-73. · 5.40 Impact Factor