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J Virol. 2007 Apr;81(7):3303-16. Epub 2007 Jan 10.

Phosphoacceptor site S173 in the regulatory domain of Epstein-Barr Virus ZEBRA protein is required for lytic DNA replication but not for activation of viral early genes.

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Department of Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


The Epstein-Barr virus ZEBRA protein controls the viral lytic cycle. ZEBRA activates the transcription of viral genes required for replication. ZEBRA also binds to oriLyt and interacts with components of the viral replication machinery. The mechanism that differentiates the roles of ZEBRA in regulation of transcription and initiation of lytic replication is unknown. Here we show that S173, a residue in the regulatory domain, is obligatory for ZEBRA to function as an origin binding protein but is dispensable for its role as a transcriptional activator of early genes. Serine-to-alanine substitution of this residue, which prevents phosphorylation of S173, resulted in a threefold reduction in the DNA binding affinity of ZEBRA for oriLyt, as assessed by chromatin immunoprecipitation. An independent assay based on ZEBRA solubility demonstrated a marked defect in DNA binding by the Z(S173A) mutant. The phenotype of a phosphomimetic mutant, the Z(S173D) mutant, was similar to that of wild-type ZEBRA. Our findings suggest that phosphorylation of S173 promotes viral replication by enhancing ZEBRA's affinity for DNA. The results imply that stronger DNA binding is required for ZEBRA to activate replication than that required to activate transcription.

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