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J Virol. 2012 Apr;86(8):4404-19. doi: 10.1128/JVI.06617-11. Epub 2012 Feb 15.

An alternative Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus replication program triggered by host cell apoptosis.

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Center for Cancer and Immunology Research, Children’s Research Institute, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA.


Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is linked to several neoplastic diseases: Kaposi's sarcoma, primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), and multicentric Castleman's disease (MCD). KSHV replicates actively, via a controlled gene expression program, but can also remain latent. It had been thought that the transition from latent to lytic replication was controlled exclusively by the replication and transcription activator protein RTA (open reading frame 50 [ORF50] gene product). A dominant-negative (DN) ORF50 mutant, ORF50ΔSTAD, blocks gene expression and replication. We produced a PEL cell line derivative containing both latent KSHV genomes and an inducible ORF50ΔSTAD. We unexpectedly found that induction of apoptosis triggered high-level viral replication, even when DN ORF50ΔSTAD was present, suggesting that apoptosis triggers KSHV replication through a distinct RTA-independent pathway. We verified that apoptosis triggers KSHV replication independent of RTA using ORF50 small interfering RNA (siRNA) and also showed that caspase activity is required to trigger KSHV replication. We showed that when apoptosis triggers KSHV replication, the kinetics of late gene expression is accelerated by 12 to 24 h and that virus produced following apoptosis has reduced infectivity. KSHV therefore appears to replicate via two distinct pathways, a conventional pathway requiring RTA, with slower replication kinetics, producing virus with higher infectivity, and an alternative apoptosis-triggered pathway that does not require RTA, has faster replication kinetics, and produces virus with lower infectivity. The existence of a distinct apoptosis-triggered, accelerated replication pathway may have evolutionary advantages for the virus and clinical significance for the treatment of KSHV-associated neoplasms. It also provides further evidence that KSHV can sense and react to its environment.

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