Gamma-herpesvirus latency requires T cell evasion during episome maintenance.

12 Jul 2018

The gamma-herpesviruses persist as latent episomes in a dynamic lymphocyte pool. Their consequent need to express a viral episome maintenance protein presents a potential immune target. The glycine-alanine repeat of the Epstein-Barr virus episome maintenance protein, EBNA-1, limits EBNA-1 epitope presentation to CD8(+) T lymphocytes (CTLs). However, CTL recognition occurs in vitro, so the significance of such evasion for viral fitness is unclear. We used the murine gamma-herpesvirus-68 (MHV-68) to define the in vivo contribution of cis-acting CTL evasion to host colonisation. Although the ORF73 episome maintenance protein of MHV-68 lacks a glycine-alanine repeat, it was equivalent to EBNA-1 in conferring limited presentation on linked epitopes. This was associated with reduced protein synthesis and reduced protein degradation. We bypassed the cis-acting evasion of ORF73 by using an internal ribosome entry site to express in trans-a CTL target from the same mRNA. This led to a severe, MHC class I-restricted and CTL-dependent reduction in viral latency. Thus, despite MHV-68 encoding at least two trans-acting CTL evasion proteins, cis-acting evasion during episome maintenance was essential for normal host colonisation.