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J Virol. 1996 Dec;70(12):8801-12.

The a sequence is dispensable for isomerization of the herpes simplex virus type 1 genome.

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Infectious Diseases Section, Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research Division, Warner-Lambert Company, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105, USA.


The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) genome consists of two components, L (long) and S (short), that invert relative to each other during productive infection to generate four equimolar isomeric forms of viral DNA. Recent studies have indicated that this genome isomerization is the result of DNA replication-mediated homologous recombination between the large inverted repeat sequences that exist in the genome, rather than site-specific recombination through the terminal repeat a sequences present at the L-S junctions. However, there has never been an unequivocal demonstration of the dispensability of the latter element for this process using a recombinant virus whose genome lacks a sequences at its L-S junctions. This is because the genetic manipulations required to generate such a viral mutant are not possible using simple marker transfer, since the cleavage and encapsidation signals of the a sequence represent essential cis-acting elements which cannot be deleted outright from the viral DNA. To circumvent this problem, a simple two-step strategy was devised by which essential cis-acting sites like the a sequence can be readily deleted from their natural loci in large viral DNA genomes. This method involved initial duplication of the element at a neutral site in the viral DNA and subsequent deletion of the element from its native site. By using this approach, the a sequence at the L-S junction was rendered dispensable for virus replication through the insertion of a second copy into the thymidine kinase (TK) gene of the viral DNA; the original copies at the L-S junctions were then successfully deleted from this virus by conventional marker transfer. The final recombinant virus, HSV-1::L-S(delta)a, was found to be capable of undergoing normal levels of genome isomerization on the basis of the presence of equimolar concentrations of restriction fragments unique to each of the four isomeric forms of the viral DNA. Interestingly, only two of these genomic isomers could be packaged into virions. This restriction was the result of inversion of the L component during isomerization, which prevented two of the four isomers from having the cleavage and encapsidation signals of the a sequence in the TK gene in a packageable orientation. This phenomenon was exploited as a means of directly measuring the kinetics of HSV-1::L-S(delta)a genome isomerization. Following infection with virions containing just the two packaged genomic isomers, all four isomers were readily detected at a stage in infection coincident with the onset of DNA replication, indicating that the loss of the a sequence at the L-S junction had no adverse effect on the frequency of isomerization events in this virus. These results therefore validate the homologous recombination model of HSV-1 genome isomerization by directly demonstrating that the a sequence at the L-S junction is dispensable for this process. The strategy used to remove the a sequence from the HSV-1 genome in this work should be broadly applicable to studies of essential cis-acting elements in other large viral DNA molecules.

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