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J Virol. 2015 May;89(9):5012-21. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00175-15. Epub 2015 Feb 18.

The retinoblastoma tumor suppressor promotes efficient human cytomegalovirus lytic replication.

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Institute for Molecular Virology and McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
Institute for Molecular Virology and McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA


The retinoblastoma (Rb) tumor suppressor controls cell cycle, DNA damage, apoptotic, and metabolic pathways. DNA tumor virus oncoproteins reduce Rb function by either inducing Rb degradation or physically disrupting complexes between Rb and its myriad binding proteins. Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), a betaherpesvirus being investigated for potential roles in human cancers, encodes multiple lytic-phase proteins that inactivate Rb in distinct ways, leading to the hypothesis that reduced Rb levels and/or activity would benefit HCMV lytic infection. Paradoxically, we found that Rb knockdown prior to infection, whether transient or constitutive, impaired HCMV lytic infection at multiple stages, notably viral DNA replication, late protein expression, and infectious virion production. The existence of differentially modified forms of Rb, the temporally and functionally distinct means by which HCMV proteins interact with Rb, and the necessity of Rb for efficient HCMV lytic replication combine to highlight the complex relationship between the virus and this critical tumor suppressor.


Initial work examining viral protein modulation of cell cycle progression and oncogenic transformation revealed that these proteins inactivated the function of cellular tumor suppressor proteins. However, subsequent work, including experiments described here using human cytomegalovirus, demonstrate a more nuanced interaction that includes the necessity of cellular tumor suppressors for efficient viral replication. Understanding the positive impacts that cellular tumor suppressors have on viral infections may reveal new activities of these well-studied yet incompletely understood proteins. The basis for oncolytic viral therapy is the selective replication of viruses in transformed cells in which tumor suppressor function may be compromised. Understanding how tumor suppressors support viral infections may allow for the generation of modified oncolytic viruses with greater selective tumor cell replication and killing.

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