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PLoS Pathog. 2011 Aug;7(8):e1002157. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002157. Epub 2011 Aug 25.

Disruption of PML nuclear bodies is mediated by ORF61 SUMO-interacting motifs and required for varicella-zoster virus pathogenesis in skin.

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Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, United States of America.


Promyelocytic leukemia protein (PML) has antiviral functions and many viruses encode gene products that disrupt PML nuclear bodies (PML NBs). However, evidence of the relevance of PML NB modification for viral pathogenesis is limited and little is known about viral gene functions required for PML NB disruption in infected cells in vivo. Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is a human alphaherpesvirus that causes cutaneous lesions during primary and recurrent infection. Here we show that VZV disrupts PML NBs in infected cells in human skin xenografts in SCID mice and that the disruption is achieved by open reading frame 61 (ORF61) protein via its SUMO-interacting motifs (SIMs). Three conserved SIMs mediated ORF61 binding to SUMO1 and were required for ORF61 association with and disruption of PML NBs. Mutation of the ORF61 SIMs in the VZV genome showed that these motifs were necessary for PML NB dispersal in VZV-infected cells in vitro. In vivo, PML NBs were highly abundant, especially in basal layer cells of uninfected skin, whereas their frequency was significantly decreased in VZV-infected cells. In contrast, mutation of the ORF61 SIMs reduced ORF61 association with PML NBs, most PML NBs remained intact and importantly, viral replication in skin was severely impaired. The ORF61 SIM mutant virus failed to cause the typical VZV lesions that penetrate across the basement membrane into the dermis and viral spread in the epidermis was limited. These experiments indicate that VZV pathogenesis in skin depends upon the ORF61-mediated disruption of PML NBs and that the ORF61 SUMO-binding function is necessary for this effect. More broadly, our study elucidates the importance of PML NBs for the innate control of a viral pathogen during infection of differentiated cells within their tissue microenvironment in vivo and the requirement for a viral protein with SUMO-binding capacity to counteract this intrinsic barrier.

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