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J Virol. 1998 Oct;72(10):7978-84.

The Epstein-Barr virus Rta protein activates lytic cycle genes and can disrupt latency in B lymphocytes.

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  • 1Departments of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Pediatrics, and Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.


The transition of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) from latency into the lytic cycle is associated with the expression of two immediate-early viral genes, BZLF1 and BRLF1. Overexpression of ZEBRA, the product of BZLF1, is sufficient to disrupt latency in B lymphocytes and epithelial cells by stimulating expression of lytic cycle genes, including BRLF1. The BRLF1 product Rta functions as a transcriptional activator in both B lymphocytes and epithelial cells. However, Rta has recently been reported to disrupt latency in an epithelial specific manner (S. Zalani, E. Holley-Guthrie, and S. Kenney, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93:9194-9199, 1996). Here we demonstrate that expression of Rta is also sufficient for disruption of latency in a permissive B-cell line. In HH514-16 cells, transfection of Rta leads to synthesis of ZEBRA, viral DNA replication, and late gene expression. However, Rta by itself is less potent than ZEBRA in the ability to activate most early and late lytic cycle genes. In light of previous work implicating ZEBRA in the activation of Rta, we suggest a cooperative model for EBV entry into the lytic cycle. Expression of either BZLF1 or BRLF1 triggers expression of the other immediate-early factor, and together these activators act individually or in synergy on downstream targets to activate the viral lytic cycle.

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