During neuronal latency of herpes simplex virus (HSV)-1, the latency-associated transcript (LAT) is the only viral gene readily detectable. LAT is required for the high-level reactivation phenotype in animal models. LAT's anti-apoptotic activity was recently demonstrated by our group and it was proposed that LAT's anti-apoptotic function is involved in enhancing the reactivation phenotype. Recently, using chimeric virus CJLAT, it was shown that the reactivation phenotype of LAT- mutant dLAT2903 can be restored to wild-type levels by inserting the bovine herpes virus (BHV)-1 latency-related (LR) gene into the LAT locus of this HSV-1 LAT deletion mutant. Although transcription of the LR gene, like LAT, inhibits apoptosis, LR appears to be multifunctional. To investigate whether the LR gene's anti-apoptotic function was responsible for restoring the high-reactivation phenotype, a mutated BHV-1 LR gene was inserted into the LAT locus of HSV-1 generating the chimeric virus CJLATmut. This mutation consists of three stop codons inserted just after the ATG of the first LR open reading frame (ORF2). In plasmids and in a BHV-1 mutant, this mutation eliminated the LR gene's anti-apoptotic activity, strongly suggesting that ORF2 encodes a protein responsible for LR's anti-apoptotic activity. Reactivation of the CJLATmut virus, in both rabbits and mice, was significantly lower than in wild-type McKrae virus (P=0.0001 and P=0.0003, respectively) and CJLAT virus, containing wild-type LR in place of LAT (P<0.0001) and was similar to LAT- dLAT2903 (P=0.8 and P=0.7, respectively). Thus, disruption of BHV-1 LR ORF2 eliminated the high-reactivation phenotype.
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