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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Jan 29;110(5):1911-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1216985110. Epub 2013 Jan 15.

An immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibition motif in varicella-zoster virus glycoprotein B regulates cell fusion and skin pathogenesis.

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Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Herpesvirus entry functions of the conserved glycoproteins gB and gH-gL have been delineated, but their role in regulating cell-cell fusion is poorly understood. Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infection provides a valuable model for investigating cell-cell fusion because of the importance of this process for pathogenesis in human skin and sensory ganglia. The present study identifies a canonical immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibition motif (ITIM) in the gB cytoplasmic domain (gBcyt) and demonstrates that the gBcyt is a tyrosine kinase substrate. Orbitrap mass spectrometry confirmed that Y881, central to the ITIM, is phosphorylated. To determine whether the gBcyt ITIM regulates gB/gH-gL-induced cell-cell fusion in vitro, tyrosine residues Y881 and Y920 in the gBcyt were substituted with phenylalanine separately or together. Recombinant viruses with these substitutions were generated to establish their effects on syncytia formation in replication in vitro and in the human skin xenograft model of VZV pathogenesis. The Y881F substitution caused significantly increased cell-cell fusion despite reduced cell-surface gB. Importantly, the Y881F or Y881/920F substitutions in VZV caused aggressive syncytia formation, reducing cell-cell spread. These in vitro effects of aggressive syncytia formation translated to severely impaired skin infection in vivo. In contrast, the Y920F substitution did not affect virus replication in vitro or in vivo. These observations suggest that gB modulates cell-cell fusion via an ITIM-mediated Y881 phosphorylation-dependent mechanism, supporting a unique concept that intracellular signaling through this gBcyt motif regulates VZV syncytia formation and is essential for skin pathogenesis.

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