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J Virol. 2002 Feb;76(3):1435-49.

The herpes simplex virus type 2 R1 protein kinase (ICP10 PK) blocks apoptosis in hippocampal neurons, involving activation of the MEK/MAPK survival pathway.

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Departments of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, USA.


Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and HSV-2 trigger or counteract apoptosis by a cell-specific mechanism. Our studies are based on previous findings that the protein kinase (PK) domain of the large subunit of HSV-2 ribonucleotide reductase (ICP10) activates the Ras/MEK/MAPK pathway (Smith et al., J. Virol. 74:10417, 2000). Because survival pathways can modulate apoptosis, we used cells that are stably or transiently transfected with ICP10 PK, an HSV-2 mutant deleted in ICP10 PK (ICP10DeltaPK) and the MEK-specific inhibitor U0126 to examine the role of ICP10 PK in apoptosis. Apoptosis was induced by staurosporine or D-mannitol in human (HEK293) cells or HEK293 cells stably transfected with the ICP10 PK-negative mutant p139 (JHL15), as determined by morphology, DNA fragmentation, terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end labeling (TUNEL), caspase-3 activation, and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) cleavage. HEK293 cells stably transfected with ICP10 (JHLa1) were protected from apoptosis. ICP10 but not p139 protected neuronally differentiated PC12 cells from death due to nerve growth factor withdrawal, and apoptosis (determined by TUNEL) and caspase-3 activation were seen in primary hippocampal cultures infected with ICP10DeltaPK but not with HSV-2 or a revertant virus [HSV-2(R)]. The data indicate that ICP10 has antiapoptotic activity under both paradigms and that it requires a functional PK activity. The apoptotic cells in primary hippocampal cultures were neurons, as determined by double immunofluorescence with fluorescein-labeled dUTP (TUNEL) and phycoerythrin-labeled antibodies specific for neuronal proteins (TuJ1 and NF-160). Protection from apoptosis was associated with MEK/MAPK activation, as evidenced by (i) increased levels of activated (phosphorylated) MAPK in HSV-2- but not ICP10DeltaPK-infected cultures and (ii) inhibition of MAPK activation by the MEK-specific inhibitor U0126. MEK and MAPK were activated by infection with UV-inactivated but not antibody-neutralized HSV-2, suggesting that activation requires cellular penetration but is independent of de novo viral protein synthesis.

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