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Nature. 2008 Aug 7;454(7205):780-3. doi: 10.1038/nature07103. Epub 2008 Jul 2.

MicroRNAs expressed by herpes simplex virus 1 during latent infection regulate viral mRNAs.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and Center for Virology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Herpesviruses are characterized by their ability to maintain life-long latent infections in their animal hosts. However, the mechanisms that allow establishment and maintenance of the latent state remain poorly understood. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) establishes latency in neurons of sensory ganglia, where the only abundant viral gene product is a non-coding RNA, the latency associated transcript (LAT). Here we show that LAT functions as a primary microRNA (miRNA) precursor that encodes four distinct miRNAs in HSV-1 infected cells. One of these miRNAs, miR-H2-3p, is transcribed in an antisense orientation to ICP0-a viral immediate-early transcriptional activator that is important for productive HSV-1 replication and thought to have a role in reactivation from latency. We show that miR-H2-3p is able to reduce ICP0 protein expression, but does not significantly affect ICP0 messenger RNA levels. We also identified a fifth HSV-1 miRNA in latently infected trigeminal ganglia, miR-H6, which derives from a previously unknown transcript distinct from LAT. miR-H6 shows extended seed complementarity to the mRNA encoding a second HSV-1 transcription factor, ICP4, and inhibits expression of ICP4, which is required for expression of most HSV-1 genes during productive infection. These results may explain the reported ability of LAT to promote latency. Thus, HSV-1 expresses at least two primary miRNA precursors in latently infected neurons that may facilitate the establishment and maintenance of viral latency by post-transcriptionally regulating viral gene expression.

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