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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 18;8(10):e79007. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0079007. eCollection 2013.

Inhibition of cdk9 during herpes simplex virus 1 infection impedes viral transcription.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of California, Irvine, California, United States of America.


During herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) infection there is a loss of the serine-2 phosphorylated form of RNA polymerase II (RNAP II) found in elongation complexes. This occurs in part because RNAP II undergoes ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation during times of highly active viral transcription, which may result from stalled elongating complexes. In addition, a viral protein, ICP22, was reported to trigger a loss of serine-2 RNAP II. These findings have led to some speculation that the serine-2 phosphorylated form of RNAP II may not be required for HSV-1 transcription, although this form is required for cellular transcription elongation and RNA processing. Cellular kinase cdk9 phosphorylates serine-2 in the C-terminal domain (CTD) of RNAP II. To determine if serine-2 phosphorylated RNAP II is required for HSV-1 transcription, we inhibited cdk9 during HSV-1 infection and measured viral gene expression. Inhibition was achieved by adding cdk9 inhibitors 5,6-dichlorobenzimidazone-1-β-D-ribofuranoside (DRB) or flavopiridol (FVP) or by expression of a dominant-negative cdk9 or HEXIM1, which in conjunction with 7SK snRNA inhibits cdk9 in complex with cyclin 1. Here we report that inhibition of cdk9 resulted in decreased viral yields and levels of late proteins, poor formation of viral transcription-replication compartments, reduced levels of poly(A)+ mRNA and decreased RNA synthesis as measured by uptake of 5-bromouridine into nascent RNA. Importantly, a global reduction in viral mRNAs was seen as determined by microarray analysis. We conclude that serine-2 phosphorylation of the CTD of RNAP II is required for HSV-1 transcription.

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