HCMV activation of ERK-MAPK drives a multi-factorial response promoting the survival of infected myeloid progenitors

25 Sep 2017

Viral binding and entry provides the first trigger of a cell death response and thus how human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) evades this - particularly during latent infection where a very limited pattern of gene expression is observed - is less well understood. It has been demonstrated that the activation of cellular signalling pathways upon virus binding promotes the survival of latently infected cells by the activation of cell encoded anti-apoptotic responses. In CD34+ cells, a major site of HCMV latency, ERK signalling is important for survival and we now show that the activation of this pathway impacts on multiple aspects of cell death pathways. The data illustrate that HCMV infection triggers activation of pro-apoptotic Bak which is then countered through multiple ERK-dependent functions. Specifically, ERK promotes ELK1 mediated transcription of the key survival molecule MCL-1, along with a concomitant decrease of the pro-apoptotic BIM and PUMA proteins. Finally, we show that the elimination of ELK-1 from CD34+ cells results in elevated Bak activation in response to viral infection, resulting in cell death. Taken together, these data begin to shed light on the poly-functional response elicited by HCMV via ERK-MAPK to promote cell survival.