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J Virol. 2017 Jan 3;91(2). pii: e02001-16. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02001-16. Print 2017 Jan 15.

Mutations Inactivating Herpes Simplex Virus 1 MicroRNA miR-H2 Do Not Detectably Increase ICP0 Gene Expression in Infected Cultured Cells or Mouse Trigeminal Ganglia.

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Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Department of Medical Microbiology and Parasitology, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China.
Collaborative Innovation Center for Diagnosis and Treatment of Infectious Diseases, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China.
Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA


Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) latency entails the repression of productive ("lytic") gene expression. An attractive hypothesis to explain some of this repression involves inhibition of the expression of ICP0, a lytic gene activator, by a viral microRNA, miR-H2, which is completely complementary to ICP0 mRNA. To test this hypothesis, we engineered mutations that disrupt miR-H2 without affecting ICP0 in HSV-1. The mutant virus exhibited drastically reduced expression of miR-H2 but showed wild-type levels of infectious virus production and no increase in ICP0 expression in lytically infected cells, which is consistent with the weak expression of miR-H2 relative to the level of ICP0 mRNA in that setting. Following corneal inoculation of mice, the mutant was not significantly different from wild-type virus in terms of infectious virus production in the trigeminal ganglia during acute infection, mouse mortality, or the rate of reactivation from explanted latently infected ganglia. Critically, the mutant was indistinguishable from wild-type virus for the expression of ICP0 and other lytic genes in acutely and latently infected mouse trigeminal ganglia. The latter result may be related to miR-H2 being less effective in inhibiting ICP0 expression in transfection assays than a host microRNA, miR-138, which has previously been shown to inhibit lytic gene expression in infected ganglia by targeting ICP0 mRNA. Additionally, transfected miR-138 reduced lytic gene expression in infected cells more effectively than miR-H2. While this study provides little support for the hypothesis that miR-H2 promotes latency by inhibiting ICP0 expression, the possibility remains that miR-H2 might target other genes during latency.


Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), which causes a variety of diseases, can establish lifelong latent infections from which virus can reactivate to cause recurrent disease. Latency is the most biologically interesting and clinically vexing feature of the virus. Ever since miR-H2's discovery as a viral microRNA bearing complete sequence complementarity to the mRNA for the important viral gene activator ICP0, inhibition of ICP0 expression by miR-H2 has been a major hypothesis to help explain the repression of lytic gene expression during latency. However, this hypothesis remained untested in latently infected animals. Using a miR-H2-deficient mutant virus, we found no evidence that miR-H2 represses the expression of ICP0 or other lytic genes in cells or mice infected with HSV-1. Although miR-H2 can repress ICP0 expression in transfection assays, such repression is weak. The results suggest that other mechanisms for miR-H2 activity and for the repression of lytic gene expression during latency deserve investigation.


herpes simplex virus; latency; miRNA

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