Identification of alternative transcripts encoding the essential murine gammaherpesvirus lytic transactivator RTA

Brian S. Wakeman, L. Steven Johnson, Clinton R. Paden, Kathleen S. Gray, Herbert W. Virgin, Samuel H. Speck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The essential immediate early transcriptional activator RTA, encoded by gene 50, is conserved among all characterized gammaherpesviruses. Analyses of a recombinant murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV68) lacking both of the known gene 50 promoters (G50DblKo) revealed that this mutant retained the ability to replicate in the simian kidney epithelial cell line Vero but not in permissive murine fibroblasts following low-multiplicity infection. However, G50DblKo replication in permissive fibroblasts was partially rescued by high-multiplicity infection. In addition, replication of the G50DblKo virus was rescued by growth on mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) isolated from IFN-α/βR-/- mice, while growth on Vero cells was suppressed by the addition of alpha interferon (IFN-α). 5' rapid amplification of cDNA ends (RACE) analyses of RNAs prepared from G50DblKo and wild-type MHV68-infected murine macrophages identified three novel gene 50 transcripts initiating from 2 transcription initiation sites located upstream of the currently defined proximal and distal gene 50 promoters. In transient promoter assays, neither of the newly identified gene 50 promoters exhibited sensitivity to IFN-α treatment. Furthermore, in a single-step growth analysis RTA levels were higher at early times postinfection with the G50DblKo mutant than with wild-type virus but ultimately fell below the levels of RTA expressed by wild-type virus at later times in infection. Infection of mice with the MHV68 G50DblKo virus demonstrated that this mutant virus was able to establish latency in the spleen and peritoneal exudate cells (PECs) of C57BL/6 mice with about 1/10 the efficiency of wild-type virus or marker rescue virus. However, despite the ability to establish latency, the G50DblKo virus mutant was severely impaired in its ability to reactivate from either latently infected splenocytes or PECs. Consistent with the ability to rescue replication of the G50DblKo mutant by growth on type I interferon receptor null MEFs, infection of IFN-α/βR-/- mice with the G50DblKo mutant virus demonstrated partial rescue of (i) acute virus replication in the lungs, (ii) establishment of latency, and (iii) reactivation from latency. The identification of additional gene 50/RTA transcripts highlights the complex mechanisms involved in controlling expression of RTA, likely reflecting time-dependent and/or cell-specific roles of different gene 50 promoters in controlling virus replication. Furthermore, the newly identified gene 50 transcripts may also act as negative regulators that modulate RTA expression

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5474-5490
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2014


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