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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Feb 21;103(8):2827-32. Epub 2006 Feb 13.

The U(L)41 protein of herpes simplex virus 1 degrades RNA by endonucleolytic cleavage in absence of other cellular or viral proteins.

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  • 1The Marjorie Kovler Viral Oncology Laboratories, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


The herpes simplex virus 1 ORF U(L)41 encodes a protein (virion host shutoff or vhs) associated with selective degradation of mRNA early in infection. Some mRNAs, exemplified by GAPDH or beta-actin mRNAs, are degraded rapidly. Others, for example IEX-1 mRNA, are degraded in two stages: whereas the 3' domain disappears rapidly, a large 5' domain fragment of the mRNA lingers for several hours. Still a third, exemplified by tristetraprolin mRNA, is not degraded, allowing its protein product to accumulate in infected cells. Here we report the following: (i) a GST-vhs protein produced in Escherichia coli, solubilized and purified to homogeneity acts as bona fide endoribonuclease when tested on in vitro transcribed IEX-1 probes. A GST-vhs protein in which three key vhs amino acids were replaced with alanines, solubilized and purified by the same protocol, had no enzymatic activity. (ii) The number of fragments generated by cleavage of a truncated IEX-1 RNA by vhs appears to be small; the cleavage sites are centered at or near the AU-rich elements located at the 3' untranslated region of the mRNA. A truncated RNA containing only the IEX-1 coding domain was cleaved numerous times. (iii) In cells infected at high multiplicity and exposed to a large number of particles per cell, the vhs protein accumulated within 3 h after infection, in small uniform cytoplasmic granules raising the possibility that vhs colocalizes with tristerapolin, a protein induced after infection, in structures involved in degradation of RNA.

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