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J Gen Virol. 2009 Oct;90(Pt 10):2364-74. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.012526-0. Epub 2009 Jun 10.

Lytic infection of permissive cells with human cytomegalovirus is regulated by an intrinsic 'pre-immediate-early' repression of viral gene expression mediated by histone post-translational modification.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QQ, UK.


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) lytic gene expression occurs in a regulated cascade, initiated by expression of the viral major immediate-early (IE) proteins. Transcribed from the major IE promoter (MIEP), the major IE genes regulate viral early and late gene expression. This study found that a substantial proportion of infecting viral genomes became associated with histones immediately upon infection of permissive fibroblasts at low m.o.i. and these histones bore markers of repressed chromatin. As infection progressed, however, the viral MIEP became associated with histone marks, which correlate with the known transcriptional activity of the MIEP at IE time points. Interestingly, this chromatin-mediated repression of the MIEP at 'pre-IE' times of infection could be overcome by inhibition of histone deacetylases, as well as by infection at high m.o.i., and resulted in a temporal advance of the infection cycle by inducing premature viral early and late gene expression and DNA replication. As well as the MIEP, and consistent with previous observations, the viral early and late promoters were also initially associated with repressive chromatin. However, changes in histone modifications around these promoters also occurred as infection progressed, and this correlated with the known temporal regulation of the viral early and late gene expression cascade. These data argue that the chromatin structure of all classes of viral genes are initially repressed on infection of permissive cells and that the chromatin structure of HCMV gene promoters plays an important role in regulating the time course of viral gene expression during lytic infection.

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