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Identification of a Novel Transcriptional Repressor Encoded by Human Cytomegalovirus


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Copyright © 2001, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

Identification of a Novel Transcriptional Repressor Encoded

by Human Cytomegalovirus


Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine,1and Molecular and

Cellular Biology Program,2Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 45701

Received 30 January 2001/Accepted 30 March 2001

The expression of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) genes during viral replication is precisely regulated, with the interactions of both transcriptional activators and repressors determining the level of gene expression. One gene of HCMV, the US3 gene, is transcriptionally repressed early in infection. Repression of US3 expression re-quires viral infection and protein synthesis and is mediated through a DNA sequence, the transcriptional repressive element. In this report, we identify the protein that represses US3 transcription as the product of the HCMV UL34 open reading frame. The protein encoded by UL34 (pUL34) binds to the US3 transcriptional repressive element in yeast and in vitro. pUL34 localizes to the nucleus and alone is sufficient for repression of US3 ex-pression. The data presented here, along with earlier data (B. J. Biegalke, J. Virol. 72:5457–5463, 1998), suggests that pUL34 binding of the transcriptional repressive element prevents transcription initiation complex formation.

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is an important opportu-nistic pathogen and causes disease in transplant recipients, people with AIDS, and neonates (8). Primary infection results in viral replication and is followed by the establishment of a latent infection. Viral replication is a result of the ordered expression of the HCMV genome; both transcriptional activa-tors and repressors are involved in the precise regulation of viral gene expression during the 5-day replication cycle of the virus (46).

Several HCMV proteins are involved in regulating the ex-pression of other viral genes. The two HCMV major immedi-ate-early (mIE) proteins, IE1 and IE2, have important roles as activators of viral gene expression, while IE2 also acts as a autorepressor, repressing the expression of IE1 and IE2 (13, 28, 38, 57; see reference 47 for a review). Other proteins encoded by the virus (UL82, UL37, UL84, and TRS1/IRS1 among others) are also involved in regulating viral gene ex-pression (14–16, 21, 39, 52). The US3 gene is one example of an HCMV gene whose expression is precisely regulated, with its expression influenced positively and negatively by the pro-teins listed above (6). Analyses of US3 transcription suggest that additional as-yet-unidentified cellular or viral proteins also contribute to regulated expression.

The US3 gene is transcribed at immediate-early times of infection, yielding three alternatively spliced transcripts that are predicted to encode related but distinct proteins (58, 62). Expression of the US3 gene causes major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I heavy chains to be retained in the endoplasmic reticulum (1, 30). Retention of MHC class I heavy chains prevents the presentation of viral antigens on the sur-face of infected cells and is one of the many immune evasion mechanisms utilized by HCMV (27).

In the course of viral infection, US3 expression is initially activated with US3 transcripts accumulating to abundant levels during the first 3 h of infection (3). Following the burst of transcriptional activity, the level of US3 transcripts begins to decline, and by 5 h postinfection there is very little detectable US3 expression. DNA elements that control the pattern of US3 expression include silencer, enhancer, promoter, and transcriptional repressive elements (5, 11, 35, 59, 62).

The decrease in the level of US3 expression is a result of transcriptional repression mediated through the transcrip-tional repressive element (tre [3, 35]). The treis located be-tween the transcription start site and the TATA box (sequenc-es from ⫺18 to ⫹1) and mediates repression of US3 transcription in transient-transfection assays and during viral infection (5, 35).tre-dependent transcriptional repression re-quires viral infection and associated protein synthesis (5). In-terestingly, the tre shares sequence similarity with another DNA element (the cis-repressive sequence, crs [4]) that is involved in IE2 autorepression (13, 38, 48). The similarity in sequence between thetreand thecrssuggested that IE2 might mediate transcription repression of the US3 gene (4). How-ever, in permissive human diploid fibroblasts, IE2 activates rather than represses US3 gene expression, resulting in a ca. 5-to 10-fold increase in expression. In contrast, in cells nonper-missive for viral replication, Lashmit et al. observed an⬃2-fold inhibition of US3 expression by IE2 (35). The significance of IE2 repression of US3 expression in nonpermissive cells is unclear. The following studies were performed to identify pro-tein(s) that interact with the US3treand repress US3 tran-scription. Our data, presented below, identify the HCMV UL34 gene product as a novel sequence-specific DNA-binding protein that acts to repress expression from the US3 promoter.


Virus, cells, and transfections.HCMV (strain Towne) was obtained from Adam Geballe (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Wash.) and was propagated in primary human diploid fibroblast (HDF) cultures established from skin tissue samples obtained from O’Bleness Memorial Hospital, Athens, Ohio. Cells were propagated in Dulbecco minimal essential medium

supple-* Corresponding author. Mailing address: Department of Biomedi-cal Sciences, 228 Irvine Hall, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701. Phone: (740) 593-2377. Fax: (740) 597-2778. E-mail: biegalke@ohiou .edu.

† Present address: Department of Biological Sciences, Ohio Univer-sity, Athens, OH 45701.


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mented with penicillin, streptomycin, glutamine, and 10% NuSerum (Collabo-rative Research Products, Bedford, Mass.). For transient-transfection assays, primary human diploid fibroblasts (HDFs) were transfected using DEAE-dex-tran as previously described (3). For protein localization studies, HDFs were transfected using Effectene (Qiagen); fluorescent proteins were visualized using a fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC) filter.

Nuclear extracts.Nuclear extracts were prepared by a modification of the method described by Dignam et al. (17), with all manipulations carried out on ice. Briefly, HDFs were plated in 150-mm dishes and either mock infected or infected with HCMV strain Towne at a multiplicity of infection of 5 PFU/cell. Nuclear extracts were prepared from infected cells at 3 h postinfection (h.p.i.). Cells were rinsed twice with phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) and harvested by scraping cells from each plate into a 1.5-ml microfuge tube. Cells were pelleted by centrifugation for 5 min at 3,000 rpm at 4°C (Eppendorf model 5415C microcentrifuge). Pellets were resuspended in 100␮l of PBS, combined with three to five pellets per tube, and centrifuged as described above. The combined cell pellet was quickly rinsed in hypotonic buffer (10 mM HEPES [pH 7.9 at 4°C], 1.5 mM MgCl2, 10 mM KCl, 0.2 mM phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride [PMSF], 0.5 mM dithiothreitol [DTT], 1.5⫻ Complete EDTA-free protease inhibitors [Boehringer Mannheim]) at five times the packed cell volume (PCV). The pellet was immediately centrifuged as described above, resuspended in hypotonic buffer at three times the PCV, and incubated for 5 min. The cells were Dounce homogenized gently 10 times in a microtissue grinder (Fisher Scientific) to release nuclei. Nuclei were then pelleted by centrifugation at 4,000 rpm for 8 min. Nuclear proteins were extracted by resuspending the nuclei in extraction buffer (20 mM HEPES [pH 7.9 at 4°C], 420 mM NaCl, 1.5 mM MgCl2, 0.2 mM EDTA, 25% glycerol, 0.2 mM PMSF, 0.5 mM DTT, 1.5⫻protease inhibitors [as described above]) at two times the packed nuclear volume followed by incubation on ice for 1 h. The extraction mixture was centrifuged for 30 min at 13,000 rpm at 4°C. The crude nuclear extract was aliquoted and stored at⫺80°C. Approx-imately 300␮l of nuclear extract (1 to 2 mg/ml) were obtained from 10 150-mm plates.

Electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSAs).DNA fragments containing US3 sequences from⫺22 to⫹1 or⫺25 to⫹10 and containing either thetreor a mutanttrewere prepared by annealing purified complementary oligonucleo-tides (oligos) (⫺22 to⫹1 wild-type sequences, oligo 115 [5⬘-TCAAAAACACC GTTCAGTCCACA-3⬘] and oligo 116 [5⬘-TGTGGACTGAACGGTGTTTTTG A-3⬘];⫺22 to⫹1 mutant sequences, oligo 117 [5⬘-TCAAAAACACTGCCCAG TCCACA-3⬘] and oligo 118 [5⬘-TGTGGACTGGGCAGTGTTTTTGA-3⬘];⫺25 to⫹10 wild-type sequences, oligo 123 [5⬘-GATTCAAAAACACCGTTCAGTC CACACGCTACTTC-3⬘] and oligo 124 [5⬘-GAAGTAGCGTGTGGACTGAA CGGTGTTTTTGAATC-3⬘];⫺25 to⫹10 mutant sequences, oligo 125 [5⬘-GA TTCAAAAACACTGCCCAGTCCACACGCTACTCC-3⬘] and oligo 126 [5⬘-G AAGTAGCGTGTGGACTGGGCAGTGTTTTTGAATC-3⬘]). DNA fragments consisting of US3 sequences from⫺58 to⫹32 and with atreor a mutant version were generated by digesting plasmids pBJ171 and pBJ214 (4), respectively, with SnaBI andPstI, followed by gel purification of the DNA fragments. DNA probes were radiolabeled using T4 polynucleotide kinase (New England Biolabs) and [␥-32P]ATP (3,000 Ci/mmol; New England Nuclear).

Binding reactions were carried out as described by Macias et al. (42). Briefly, 15-␮l binding reaction mixtures contained the radiolabeled probe, nuclear ex-tracts, or in vitro translation reaction products and 2␮g of salmon sheared salmon sperm DNA (Gibco-BRL) in binding buffer (25 mM Tris-HCl [pH 8.0], 0.5 mM EDTA, 6.25 mM MgCl2, 0.5 DTT, 9% [vol/vol] glycerol, and 0.01% Nonidet P-40). For the cold competition assays, an excess of nonradioactive DNA fragments was added to the binding reaction mixtures. The protein-DNA complexes were separated from unbound DNA by electrophoresis through 5% polyacrylamide gels (36:1, acrylamide/bisacrylamide ratio) in 0.5⫻TBE (45 mM Tris-borate [pH 8.3], 1.0 mM EDTA) for 2 h at 200 V at 4°C.

Yeast one-hybrid analysis.Total cellular RNA was prepared from HCMV-infected HDFs at 3 h.p.i.; poly(A)⫹RNA was isolated from the total RNA (5 Prime-3 Prime, Inc.) and used as the template for construction of a cDNA library, using the HybriZap 2.1 XR Library Construction kit (Stratagene). The cDNA library contained 2⫻106independent clones. Mass excision was used to convert the HybriZap library to a pAD-GAL4 library.Saccharomyces cerevisiae YM4271 reporter strains were made that contained an integrated␤ -galactosi-dase reporter gene with either three copies of thetreor three copies of the mutatedtreinserted 5⬘of the reporter gene. To generate the stable yeast cell lines, oligos consisting of three copies of the wild-typetre(oligo 167 [5⬘-AATT CCAAAAACACCGTTCAGTCCACACGTCAAAAACACCGTTCAGTCCA CACGTCAAAAACACCGTTCAGTCCACACGTCGACGAT-3⬘] and oligo 168 [5⬘-CTAGATCGTCGACGTGTGGACTGAACGGTGTTTTTGACG TGTGGACTGAACGGTGTTTTTGACGTGTGGACTGAACGGTGTTT

TTG-3⬘) or three copies of the mutanttre(oligo 165 [5⬘-AATTCAAAAACAC TGCCCAGTCCACACGTCAAAAACACTGCCCAGTCCACACGTCAAAA ACACTGCCCAGTCCACACGTCGACGAT-3⬘] and oligo 166 [5⬘-CTAGATC GTCGTCGACGTGTGGACTGGGCAGTGTTTTTGACGTGTGGACTGG GCAGTGTTTTTGACTGTTGGACTGGGCAGTGTTTTTG-3⬘]) were an-nealed and inserted into theEcoRI andSalI sites of the vector, pLacZi (Match-maker One Hybrid System; Clontech). The resulting plasmids, pLacZi-TREwt (pBJ339) and pLacZi-TREmut (pBJ338), were linearized and integrated into the genome ofS. cerevisiaeYM4271 by homologous recombination to obtain the yeast reporter strains YM-TREwt and YM-TREmut. The cDNA library was trans-formed into YM-TREwt; transformants were screened using ␤-galactosidase filter assays to identify positive colonies. Plasmids were isolated from potential positive clones by using the Y-DER Yeast DNA Extraction Reagent Kit (Pierce) and further analyzed for activation of␤-galactosidase activity in the YM-TRE-mut reporter strain. cDNA inserts from positive colonies were partially se-quenced to determine their identity.

Plasmids.UL34 was amplified from genomic HCMV Towne DNA usingPfu polymerase (Stratagene) and primers 218 (5⬘-CGTCTAGAGAATTCATCATG AACTTCATCATCACC-3⬘) and 219 (5⬘-CTCGTCGACTTAAATACACAAC GGGGTTATGG-3⬘). The amplimer was inserted into the Zero-Blunt cloning vector (Invitrogen) to generate pBJ374. The eukaryotic UL34 expression con-struct, pBJ386, was constructed by inserting theXbaI/SalI UL34-containing frag-ment from pBJ374 into pBJ201 (4). The plasmid pBJ384 was constructed by inserting the EcoRI/SalI UL34-containing fragment from pBJ374 into pBS⫹

(Stratagene). A plasmid (pBJ507) expressing UL34 as an in-frame fusion with eukaryotic green fluorescent protein (EGFP) was constructed by inserting the EcoRI/SalI fragment from pBJ374 into pEGFP-C2 (Clontech). The mIE protein expression plasmids have been described previously (7), as have pEQ3 (the promoter-lesslacZplasmid), pBJ201 (3), pBJ171 (the US3 promoter-trereporter gene plasmid), and pBJ214 (4).

In vitro transcription and translation reactions.In vitro transcription and translation reactions were performed using pBJ384 and the TnT7 kit as directed (Promega). Proteins were visualized by autoradiography following electrophore-sis on 10% sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)-polyacrylamide gels.


Formation of tre-dependent DNA-protein complexes. The

requirements for US3 transcriptional repression include a spe-cific DNA element (tre) and protein synthesis following viral infection. These requirements suggested that nuclear proteins present in infected cells interact with thetreto repress US3 transcription. The interaction of nuclear proteins with thetre

was examined using EMSAs. Nuclear extracts were prepared from mock-infected HDFs or from HCMV-infected HDFs at 3 h.p.i. US3 transcriptional repression occurs between 3 and 4 h.p.i., suggesting that a repressor protein is present in cells during this time period (3). Radiolabeled double-stranded DNA fragments containing either the repressive element (tre) or a mutated version of thetre(Fig. 1C) were used as probes to assay for binding of the DNA fragments by proteins in the nuclear extracts. Radiolabeled DNA fragments were incubated with the nuclear extracts; the resulting DNA-protein com-plexes were analyzed on native polyacrylamide gels.

DNA fragments containing the tre and consisting of US3 sequences from⫺25 to⫹10, from⫺22 to⫹1, or from⫺58 to

⫹32 were all able to form a unique DNA-protein complex in the presence of nuclear extracts prepared from infected cells (Fig. 1A, lanes 3, 5, and 7 respectively). Radiolabeled DNA probes (⫺25 to⫹10 or⫺22 to⫹1) that contained a mutanttre

(Fig. 1C) (5) were unable to form similar DNA-protein com-plexes (Fig. 1A, lanes 4 and 6). The largest DNA fragment (consisting of sequences from⫺58 to⫹32) formed a tre -de-pendent DNA-protein complex and an additional DNA-pro-tein complex that was independent of the presence of a func-tionaltre(Fig. 1A, lanes 7 and 8). This additional DNA-protein

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complex is presumed to result from the interaction of the DNA probe with other DNA-binding proteins such as CREB, c-rel, or TBP, binding sites for which are predicted in this region by TFSEARCH (26). Extracts prepared from mock-infected cells were unable to form a DNA-protein complex with DNA frag-ments containing either thetreor the mutant version of thetre

(Fig. 1A, lanes 1 and 2, sequences from ⫺25 to ⫹10). The DNA-protein complexes formed with the two smaller DNA probes (⫺22 to ⫹1 and ⫺25 to ⫹10) had similar rates of migration despite the difference in size between the DNA probes. The similarity in migration rates of the complexes suggests that protein binding to thetre is causing the DNA fragments to bend, or alternatively, that the electrophoretic charge of the bound protein(s) is the major determinant of the mobility of the complex, a result similar to the results seen in mobility shifts of GCN4-DNA complexes (20).

The specificity of the DNA-protein interactions was ana-lyzed in competition assays by adding an excess of DNA frag-ments that contained the tre, consisted of a mutant tre, or contained the mIEcrs. A 100-fold molar excess of unlabeled competitor DNA fragments was added to the nuclear extracts from infected cells prior to incubation with the radiolabeled DNA probe composed of the US3tre(⫺22 to⫹1). As depicted in Fig. 1A, in the absence of competitor the tre-containing

probe was able to form a specific DNA-protein complex (Fig. 1B, lane 9). Excess unlabeled DNA fragments containing the

trewere able to compete with the radiolabeled probe for pro-tein binding (Fig. 1B, compare lanes 9 and 10). However, DNA fragments containing the mIEcrsor the mutant version of the

trewere unable to compete for protein binding (Fig. 1B, lanes 11 and 12). Competition by the unlabeledtre-containing DNA fragment for protein binding coupled with the inability of the mutanttre or the mIEcrs fragments to compete for protein binding demonstrated the specific nature of the DNA-protein interaction. Although thetre-containing DNA fragments com-peted with the radiolabeledtreprobe for protein binding (Fig. 1B, lane 10), the competition was not 100% at the ratio of DNA to protein used. The lack of complete competition sug-gests that the protein(s) present in the DNA-protein complex has a relatively weak binding affinity for the DNA fragmentin

vitro, a feature associated with rapid modulation of protein

binding (32). The inability of the mIEcrsto compete with the

trefor protein binding suggests that the two DNA elements interact with different proteins and correlates with the inability of IE2 to repress US3 expression (5).


These experiments demonstrated that a specific DNA-pro-tein complex forms on the tre. Mutations that functionally inactivated the tre (5) prevented formation of tre-specific FIG. 1. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays. (A) Double-stranded radiolabeled DNA fragments containing either atre(w) or a mutant version of thetre(m) were used to assay for specific DNA-binding proteins in nuclear extracts prepared from mock-infected (mock) or HCMV-infected (infected) HDFs. Lanes 1 to 4, US3 sequences from⫺25 to⫹10; lanes 5 to 6, sequences from⫺22 to⫹1; lanes 7 and 8, sequences from⫺58 to ⫹32. (B) Specificity of DNA-protein interactions. Competition experiments were performed, using nuclear extracts from infected HDFs and adding either no competitor (lane 9) or a 100-fold molar excess of unlabeled DNA fragments containing the US3tre(wt tre, lane 10), the mIE crs(crs, lane 11), or the mutant version of thetre(m tre, lane 12) to the DNA-protein binding reactions prior to addition of the radiolabeled tre-containing fragment. Arrows, specific DNA-protein interactions; ⴱ, unbound probe; dash, tre-independent DNA-protein interaction. (C) Sequence of the US3 regulatory region; thetreis underlined, the TATA box is indicated by a rectangle, nucleotide substitutions that create a nonfunctionaltre(5) are indicated by asterisks. The locations of the⫺22 to⫹1,⫺25 to⫹10, and⫺58 to⫹32 probes are indicated; the bent arrow indicates the transcription start site.

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DNA-protein complexes (Fig. 1A). The protein(s) needed for DNA-protein complex formation were only present in nuclear extracts prepared from infected cells, suggesting that the DNA-binding protein(s) was either a viral protein or, alterna-tively, a cellular protein whose synthesis or activity was altered as a result of viral infection.

Identification of atre-binding protein.To identify proteins

binding to the tre, the yeast one-hybrid system was utilized (18). For these experiments, a cDNA expression library was constructed from poly(A)⫹RNA isolated from infected

hu-man diploid fibroblasts at 3 h.p.i., such that cDNAs were ex-pressed as GAL4 activation domain (GAL4 AD) fusion pro-teins in recipient yeast cells. The GAL4 AD-cDNA library was transformed into aS. cerevisiaeyeast strain (YM-TRE-wt) that contained three copies of thetreinserted 5⬘ of the promoter for thelacZgene. Approximately 7⫻106yeast transformants were screened for elevated levels of␤-galactosidase using filter lift assays. From the library screen, two yeast colonies were identified that expressed elevated levels of␤-galactosidase ac-tivity within 1 h of incubation with the substrate, X-Gal (5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl-␤-D-galactopyranoside). The GAL4

AD-cDNA plasmids were isolated from the positive yeast col-onies and introduced into a yeast strain that contained three copies of the mutant tre (YM-TREmut). The GAL4 AD-cDNA plasmids failed to induce lacZexpression in the YM-TREmut yeast strain, demonstrating that the proteins encoded by the cDNAs were able to specifically bind to thetre.

The cDNAs present in the GAL4 AD-cDNA plasmids were partially sequenced. The first plasmid isolate contained HCMV sequences from nucleotides 44797 to 46039; the second plas-mid isolate contained HCMV sequences from 44815 to 46044 (nucleotide numbers correspond to the sequence of HCMV AD169 [12]). This region of the HCMV genome is contained within the predicted UL34 open reading frame. In both plas-mid isolates, the predicted UL34 open reading frame was in-serted into the expression plasmid in frame with the activation domain of GAL4. The ATG at positions 44791 to 44793 is predicted to serve as the translation initiation codon for the UL34 mRNA (61); isolation of UL34 cDNAs with 5⬘ ends close to the proposed translation initiation codon supports this prediction. Northern blot analysis confirmed that UL34 tran-scripts are present early in infection (data not shown). Thus, the HCMV UL34 gene is transcribed early in infection and encodes a protein capable of binding to the US3 trein yeast. These data suggested that the protein encoded by UL34 (pUL34) is potentially capable of acting as a transcriptional repressor.

DNA-binding activity of UL34.The protein encoded by the

HCMV UL34 gene, pUL34, functioned as a sequence-specific DNA-binding protein in the yeast one-hybrid system. To con-firm and extend the results seen with the yeast one-hybrid system, EMSAs were performed using a radiolabeledtre -con-taining DNA fragment (sequences from⫺22 to⫹1, Fig. 1C) and in vitro-synthesized UL34 protein. The UL34 protein was synthesized by transcribing and translating the UL34 open reading frame in vitro in the presence of [35S]methionine. The translation products were analyzed by SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, demonstrating the synthesis of an ⬃49-kDa UL34 protein (Fig. 2A, lane 1). A control plasmid that con-tained the luciferase open reading frame was also transcribed

and translated (Fig. 2A, lane 2). The in vitro-synthesized pro-teins were assayed for the ability to bind totreby using EMSAs as described in Fig. 1. The addition of in vitro-synthesized pUL34 to a radiolabeled DNA fragment containing the tre

(sequences from⫺22 to⫹1) resulted in the formation of a DNA-protein complex (Fig. 2B, lanes 6 and 7). Increasing the amount of translation product increased the amount of DNA-protein complexes formed (Fig. 2B, compare lanes 6 and 7) and resulted in the formation of an additional minor DNA-protein complex. This minor complex may be a result of in-complete pUL34 translation products or pUL34 degradation products interacting with the DNA probe. In vitro-synthesized luciferase protein was unable to form a DNA-protein complex, demonstrating that the complex formed in the presence of pUL34 was specific (Fig. 2B, compare lanes 5 and 6).

A competition experiment was performed as described above, analyzing the ability of unlabeledtrefragments to com-pete for pUL34 binding. Addition of a 200-fold molar excess of unlabeledtre-containing DNA prevented the formation of a detectable DNA-protein complex, demonstrating that the DNA-protein interactions are specific for thetre(Fig. 2B, lane 3). Extracts prepared from infected cells formed a DNA-pro-tein complex similar to that seen with pUL34 alone (Fig. 2B, lane 1), while extracts from mock-infected cells were unable to form a complex with thetre-containing DNA fragment (Fig. 2B, lane 8). Supplementation of extracts prepared from mock-FIG. 2. (A) SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of the in vitro-synthesized pUL34 and luciferase proteins. Lane 1, 5␮l of the in vitro translation reaction utilizing the UL34-encoding plasmid; lane 2, 5␮l of the translation reaction utilizing the luciferase-encoding (luc) plas-mid; lane 3, control reaction containing no template plasmid. The positions of the molecular weight markers are indicated. (B) EMSA analysis of in vitro-synthesized pUL34. The radiolabeled double-stranded DNA probe used in lanes 1 to 8 consisted of atre-containing fragment (⫺22 to⫹1, see Fig. 1C), while the probe in lanes 9 to 10 contained a mutant version of thetre. The proteins incubated with the DNA probes are as follows: lane 1, infected cell extracts (Inf.); lane 2, extracts from mock-infected cells supplemented with 1␮l of the in vitro-translated pUL34 (M⫹UL34); lane 3, 1␮l of the in vitro-trans-lated pUL34 preincubated with a 200⫻molar excess of unlabeled tre-containing US3 sequences from⫹1 to⫺22 (competitor, c); lane 4, no protein; lane 5, 1␮l of the in vitro-translated luciferase protein (luc); lane 6, 1␮l of the in vitro-translated pUL34; lane 7, 5␮l of the in vitro-translated pUL34; lane 8, extracts from mock-infected cells (Mock); lane 9, no protein; and lane 10, 1␮l of the in vitro-translated pUL34. Arrow, specific DNA-protein interaction.

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infected cells with the in vitro-translated pUL34 resulted in the formation of a DNA-protein complex similar to that seen in the presence of infected cell extracts (Fig. 2B, lane 2). In vitro-synthesized pUL34 was unable to bind to a mutant ver-sion of thetre(Fig. 2B, lane 10). These experiments confirmed the results obtained with the yeast-one hybrid system, and establish pUL34 as a site-specific DNA-binding protein.

Localization of pUL34.As a DNA-binding protein, pUL34

was predicted to localize to the nucleus of cells. Amino acid analysis identified three potential nuclear localization signals within the UL34 open reading frame (analysis by PSORT [47]). Classical nuclear localization signals were detected at amino acid positions 300 and 306 (see reference 29 for a review), and a potential bipartite nuclear localization signal was predicted beginning at amino acid 60 (51). To determine if pUL34 lo-calizes to the nucleus, a plasmid expressing an EFGP-UL34 fusion protein was transfected into HDFs. The parental plas-mid (pEGFP-C2) was also transfected into HDFs as a control. Nuclei were stained with DAPI (4⬘,6⬘ -diamidino-2-phenylin-dole); cells were observed for green (EGFP or EGFP-UL34) and blue (nuclei) fluorescence. As illustrated in Fig. 3A and B, expression of EGFP alone resulted in an intracellular pattern of widely distributed bright green fluorescence with the nuclei fluorescing blue. The expression of the EGFP-UL34 protein resulted in the localization of the green fluorescence to the nuclei of transfected cells (Fig. 3D and F) with the green fluorescence colocalizing with DAPI-stained nuclei (Fig. 3C and E). These data demonstrated that pUL34 localizes to the nucleus, consistent with its ability to bind DNA and its pre-dicted function as a transcriptional repressor.

UL34 repression of US3 transcription. The interaction of

pUL34 with the tre in the yeast one-hybrid system and in

EMSAs suggested that pUL34 was involved in transcriptional repression of the US3 gene. To examine the effect of pUL34 on US3 gene expression, a transient-expression system was uti-lized. Reporter gene plasmids expressing thelacZgene under the control of the US3 promoter and tre(pBJ171 [3]) or the US3 promoter and a mutant version of the tre(pBJ214 [4]) were transfected into HDFs either alone or in combination with plasmids expressing IE1, IE2, IE1 and IE2, and pUL34. The transcriptional activators IE1 and IE2 were used in these assays to increase US3-regulated␤-galactosidase expression to easily detectable levels. The levels of␤-galactosidase activity were assayed by adding media containing the␤-galactosidase substrate, methylumbelliferyl-␤-D-galactoside (MUG), to the

transfected cells and then measuring the fluorescence of the MUG cleavage product. Expression of UL34 alone repressed transcription from the US3 promoter in atre-dependent fash-ion (Fig. 4A). Expressfash-ion of pUL34 repressed IE1, IE2, or IE1-IE2 activation of the US3 promoter in the presence of the wild-typetre(Fig. 4A). In contrast, mutational inactivation of the tre prevented pUL34 repression of US3 expression. pUL34-mediated transcriptional repression of the tre

re-porter gene plasmid was similar to that seen following viral infection (Fig. 4B) (4). Bothtreandtremutant reporter gene

constructs were expressed to similar levels following cotrans-fection with the IE1 and IE2 expression plasmids, demonstrat-ing that the repressive effect was specific for pUL34 (data is not shown) (4). Cotransfection of an expression plasmid contain-ing an inverted UL34 open readcontain-ing frame resulted in similar levels of reporter gene activity for the treand tre mutant

reporter gene constructs (data not shown), demonstrating a requirement for the UL34 open reading frame for transcrip-tional repression. Furthermore, transcriptranscrip-tional repression by UL34 was independent of IE2, confirming earlier observations about the lack of IE2 involvement in US3 repression (4).

Although the overall effects of pUL34 repression were sim-ilar for all combinations of transcriptional factors tested (Fig. 4), the level of gene expression was influenced by the presence of the transcriptional activators, IE1 and IE2. This suggests that there is a balance between activation and repression that ultimately determines the level of gene expression.



These studies have identified a novel transcriptional repres-sor and correspondingly have defined a function for the pre-dicted UL34 open reading frame of the HCMV genome. The protein encoded by the UL34 open reading frame, pUL34, bound specifically to thetreof the US3 gene. Three nucleo-tide substitutions within thetrethat result in a loss of tran-scriptional repression (5) prevented pUL34 DNA binding. Fur-thermore, pUL34 alone was sufficient for repression of US3 expression. pUL34 DNA-binding correlates directly with re-pression of US3 exre-pression. The mechanism by which pUL34 represses US3 transcription is unknown, however, in vivo foot-printing of the US3 promoter suggests that transcriptional repression results from a block in formation of the preinitia-tion complex (5). Thus, pUL34 binding to thetremay prevent formation of the preinitiation complex, possibly through inter-actions with general transcription factors such as TFIID or TFIIB.

FIG. 3. Micrographs of HDFs transfected with pEGFP-C2 (A and B) or pBJ507 (which expresses an EGFP-UL34 fusion protein) (C, D, E, and F). Cells were stained with DAPI and visualized with UV and FITC filters (⫻400 magnification). Panels A, C, and E, DAPI staining; panels B, D, and F, GFP fluorescence. Arrows indicate the positions of the transfected cells.

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Other than the studies reported here, very little is known about the UL34 gene. The UL34 gene is conserved among the cytomegaloviruses and a homolog has been identified in mouse, rat, and guinea pig cytomegaloviruses (49, 60; Y. Liu and B. J. Biegalke, unpublished data). Other than the cyto-megalovirus homologs, pUL34 shares no clear similarity with proteins encoded by sequences in GenBank (BLAST analysis). The predicted UL34 protein contains a basic NH2-terminal end and an acidic COOH-terminal end, which is suggestive of functional structural domains similar to those of other tran-scription factors such as GAL4.

The repression of gene expression by protein binding to a DNA element located between the TATA box and the tran-scription start site is a relatively common scheme for regulating herpesvirus gene expression. In addition to repression medi-ated by pUL34, ICP4 of herpes simplex virus and the IE2 protein of HCMV act as autoregulatory transcriptional repres-sors, binding to sequences located between the TATA box and the transcription start site and downregulating their own ex-pression (9, 13, 34, 37, 38, 38, 43, 45, 48, 50). Although the mechanisms by which ICP4 and IE2 repress their own expres-sion are not completely understood, IE2 blocks the recruit-ment of RNA polymerase II to the preinitiation complex, and ICP4 interferes with the formation of transcription initiation complexes (23, 36, 63). In addition to their repressive effects, ICP4 and IE2 play essential roles in activating the expression of viral genes. Both ICP4 and IE2 interact with a number of cellular proteins that are involved in transcriptional regulation; these interactions may also contribute to their repressive ef-fects (9, 10, 19, 22, 24, 31, 33, 40, 41, 53–56).

Although the DNA-binding and transcriptional repressive activities of pUL34 were identified through analysis of the US3 gene, there are several additional potential pUL34 binding

sites located throughout the HCMV genome. The frequency of potential binding sites suggests that pUL34 may have other roles in the virus life cycle, along with its role in repressing US3 transcription. Potential pUL34 binding sites are located both 5⬘ and 3⬘ of predicted promoter regions, suggesting that pUL34 may function to activate as well as repress transcrip-tion, depending on the position of the protein binding site. Intriguingly, potential pUL34 binding sites are also located in regions adjacent to the origin for lytic replication of the HCMV genome (2, 25, 44). This raises the possibility that pUL34 functions indirectly in DNA replication, perhaps by altering transcription in the region of the lytic origin of repli-cation.

Identification of pUL34 as a transcriptional regulatory pro-tein extends the growing list of transcription factors encoded by the herpesviruses. These studies provide the first identifi-cation of an HCMV-encoded sequence-specific DNA-binding protein that mediates transcriptional repression of another HCMV gene (the US3 gene) through a defined protein-bind-ing site. The mechanism of pUL34-mediated transcriptional repression has yet to be resolved. The potential involvement of pUL34 in the virus life cycle, particularly during latency, is an exciting possibility that remains to be investigated.


We thank John Price for technical assistance, Mark Berryman for assistance with microscopy, Adam Geballe for pEQ plasmids, and Frank Horodyski for critical reading of the manuscript.

This work was supported in part by Council of Tobacco Research grant 4740 to B.J.B. and a College of Osteopathic Medicine postdoc-toral fellowship to L.A.L.


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FIG. 1. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays. (A) Double-stranded radiolabeled DNA fragments containing either a treof the(infected) HDFs
FIG. 3. Micrographs of HDFs transfected with pEGFP-C2 (A andB) or pBJ507 (which expresses an EGFP-UL34 fusion protein) (C, D,
FIG. 4. Analysis of the effect of pUL34 on US3 transcription. Reporter gene plasmids that express the lacZenhancer and promoter and contain either theexpression


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