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J Virol. 2010 Feb;84(4):1920-33. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01934-09. Epub 2009 Dec 9.

During lytic infections, herpes simplex virus type 1 DNA is in complexes with the properties of unstable nucleosomes.

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Signal Transduction Research Group, Molecular Mechanisms of Growth Control Research Group, University of Alberta, 327C Heritage Medical Research Center, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2S2, Canada.


The genomes of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) are regularly chromatinized during latency such that their digestion with micrococcal nuclease (MCN) releases nucleosome-sized DNA fragments. In lytically infected cells, in contrast, MCN releases HSV-1 DNA in primarily heterogeneously sized fragments. Consistently, only a small percentage of this HSV-1 DNA coimmunoprecipitates with histones. Most current models propose that histones associate with HSV-1 DNA during lytic infections at low occupancy. However, histone modification or occupation is also proposed to regulate HSV-1 transcription. It remains unclear how the histones associated with a small percentage of HSV-1 DNA may regulate transcription globally. Moreover, the physical properties of the complexes containing histones and HSV-1 DNA are unknown. We evaluated the HSV-1 DNA-containing complexes at 5 h after (lytic) infection by biochemical fractionations. Nuclear HSV-1 DNA did not fractionate as protein-free HSV-1 DNA but as DNA in cellular nucleosomes. Moreover, MCN released HSV-1 DNA in complexes that fractionate as cellular mono- and dinucleosomes by centrifugation followed by sucrose gradients and size-exclusion chromatography. The HSV-1 DNA in such complexes was protected to heterogeneous sizes and was more accessible to MCN than DNA in most cellular chromatin. Using a modified MCN digestion to trap unstable digestion intermediates, HSV-1 DNA was quantitatively recovered in discrete mono- to polynucleosome sizes in complexes fractionating as cellular mono- to polynucleosomes. The HSV-1 DNAs in complexes fractionating as mono- to dinucleosomes were stabilized by cross-linking. Therefore, most HSV-1 DNA forms particularly unstable nucleosome-like complexes at 5 h of lytic infection.

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