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PLoS Pathog. 2016 Aug 30;12(8):e1005842. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005842. eCollection 2016 Aug.

An Essential Viral Transcription Activator Modulates Chromatin Dynamics.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Although ICP4 is the only essential transcription activator of herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), its mechanisms of action are still only partially understood. We and others propose a model in which HSV-1 genomes are chromatinized as a cellular defense to inhibit HSV-1 transcription. To counteract silencing, HSV-1 would have evolved proteins that prevent or destabilize chromatinization to activate transcription. These proteins should act as HSV-1 transcription activators. We have shown that HSV-1 genomes are organized in highly dynamic nucleosomes and that histone dynamics increase in cells infected with wild type HSV-1. We now show that whereas HSV-1 mutants encoding no functional ICP0 or VP16 partially enhanced histone dynamics, mutants encoding no functional ICP4 did so only minimally. Transient expression of ICP4 was sufficient to enhance histone dynamics in the absence of other HSV-1 proteins or HSV-1 DNA. The dynamics of H3.1 were increased in cells expressing ICP4 to a greater extent than those of H3.3. The dynamics of H2B were increased in cells expressing ICP4, whereas those of canonical H2A were not. ICP4 preferentially targets silencing H3.1 and may also target the silencing H2A variants. In infected cells, histone dynamics were increased in the viral replication compartments, where ICP4 localizes. These results suggest a mechanism whereby ICP4 activates transcription by disrupting, or preventing the formation of, stable silencing nucleosomes on HSV-1 genomes.

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