Translational compensation of a frameshift mutation affecting herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase is sufficient to permit reactivation from latency

Anthony Griffiths, Shun Hua Chen, Brian C. Horsburgh, Donald M. Coen

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40 Citations (Scopus)


Herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase is important for reactivation of virus from its latent state and is a target for the antiviral drug acyclovir. Most acyclovir-resistant isolates have mutations in the thymidine kinase gene; however, how these mutations confer clinically relevant resistance is unclear. Reactivation from explanted mouse ganglia was previously observed with a patient-derived drug-resistant isolate carrying a single guanine insertion within a run of guanines in the thymidine kinase gene. Despite this mutation, low levels of active enzyme were synthesized following an unusual ribosomal frameshift. Here we report that a virus, generated from a pretherapy isolate from the same patient, engineered to lack thymidine kinase activity, was competent for reactivation. This suggested that the clinical isolate contains alleles of other genes that permit reactivation in the absence of thymidine kinase. Therefore, to establish whether thymidine kinase synthesized via a ribosomal frameshift was sufficient for reactivation under conditions where reactivation requires this enzyme, we introduced the mutation into the well-characterized strain KOS. This mutant virus reactivated from latency, albeit less efficiently than KOS. Plaque autoradiography revealed three phenotypes of reactivating viruses: uniformly low thymidine kinase activity, mixed high and low activity, and uniformly high activity. We generated a recombinant thymidine kinase-null virus from a reactivating virus expressing uniformly low activity. This virus did not reactivate, confirming that mutations in other genes that would influence reactivation had not arisen. Therefore, in strains that require thymidine kinase for reactivation from latency, low levels of enzyme synthesized via a ribosomal frameshift can suffice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4703-4709
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2003 Apr

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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