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J Virol. 2004 May;78(10):5347-57.

The herpes simplex virus type 1 UL20 protein modulates membrane fusion events during cytoplasmic virion morphogenesis and virus-induced cell fusion.

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Division of Biotechnology and Molecular Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA.


The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) UL20 protein is an important determinant for virion morphogenesis and virus-induced cell fusion. A precise deletion of the UL20 gene in the HSV-1 KOS strain was constructed without affecting the adjacent UL20.5 gene. The resultant KOS/UL20-null virus produced small plaques of 8 to 15 cells in Vero cells while it produced wild-type plaques on the complementing cell line G5. Electron microscopic examination of infected cells revealed that the KOS/UL20-null virions predominantly accumulated capsids in the cytoplasm while a small percentage of virions were found as enveloped virions within cytoplasmic vacuoles. Recently, it was shown that UL20 expression was necessary and sufficient for cell surface expression of gK (T. P. Foster, X. Alvarez, and K. G. Kousoulas, J. Virol. 77:499-510, 2003). Therefore, we investigated the effect of UL20 on virus-induced cell fusion caused by syncytial mutations in gB and gK by constructing recombinant viruses containing the gBsyn3 or gKsyn1 mutations in a UL20-null genetic background. Both recombinant viruses failed to cause virus-induced cell fusion in Vero cells while they readily caused fusion of UL20-null complementing G5 cells. Ultrastructural examination of UL20-null viruses carrying the gBsyn3 or gKsyn1 mutation revealed a similar distribution of virions as the KOS/UL20-null virus. However, cytoplasmic vacuoles contained aberrant virions having multiple capsids within a single envelope. These multicapsid virions may have been formed either by fusion of viral envelopes or by the concurrent reenvelopment of multiple capsids. These results suggest that the UL20 protein regulates membrane fusion phenomena involved in virion morphogenesis and virus-induced cell fusion.

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