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J Virol. 2001 Feb;75(4):1581-93.

Reactivation of the human cytomegalovirus major immediate-early regulatory region and viral replication in embryonal NTera2 cells: role of trichostatin A, retinoic acid, and deletion of the 21-base-pair repeats and modulator.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa 52242, USA.


Inactivity of the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) major immediate-early regulatory region (MIERR), which is composed of promoter, enhancer, unique region, and modulator, is linked to lack of HCMV replication in latently infected cells and in other nonpermissive cell types, including human embryonal NTera2 carcinoma (NT2) cells. I refined the embryonal NT2 cell model to enable characterization of the unknown mechanistic basis for silencing of HCMV MIERR-dependent transcription and viral replication in nonpermissive cells. These infected NT2 cells contain nonreplicating viral genomes with electrophoretic mobility equivalent to a supercoiled, bacterial artificial chromosome of comparable molecular weight. MIERR-dependent transcription is minimal to negligible. Increasing the availability of positive-acting transcription factors by retinoic acid (RA) treatment after infection is largely insufficient in reactivating the MIERR. In contrast, trichostatin A (TSA), a histone deacetylase inhibitor, reactivates MIERR-dependent transcription. Contrary to prior findings produced from transfected MIERR segments, deletion of the 21-bp repeats and modulator from the MIERR in the viral genome does not relieve MIERR silencing. To demonstrate that MIERR silencing likely results from enhancer inactivity, I examined an HCMV with a heterologous MIERR promoter that is enhancer dependent but exempt from IE2 p86-mediated negative autoregulation. This heterologous promoter, like its neighboring native MIERR promoter, exhibits immediate-early transcriptional kinetics in fibroblasts. In embryonal NT2 cells, the heterologous MIERR promoter is transcriptionally inactive. This silence is relieved by TSA but not by RA. Remarkably, TSA-induced reactivation of MIERR-dependent transcription from quiescent viral genomes is followed by release of infectious virus. I conclude that a mechanism of active repression imposes a block to MIERR-dependent transcription and viral replication in embryonal NT2 cells. Because TSA overcomes the block, viral gene silencing may involve histone deacetylase-based modification of viral chromatin, which might account for the covalently closed circular conformation of quiescent HCMV genomes.

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