Herpesviral latency-associated transcript gene promotes assembly of heterochromatin on viral lytic-gene promoters in latent infection
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) persists in its human host and evades the immune response by undergoing a latent infection in sensory neurons, from which it can reactivate periodically. HSV expresses >80 gene products during productive (“lytic”) infection, but only the latency-associated transcript (LAT) gene is expressed at abundant levels during latent infection. The LAT gene has been shown to repress lytic-gene expression in sensory neurons. In this study, we use chromatin immunoprecipitation to show that HSV lytic-gene promoters become complexed with modified histones associated with heterochromatin during the course of establishment of latent infection. Experiments comparing LAT-negative and LAT-positive viruses show that a function encoded by the LAT gene increases the amount of dimethyl lysine 9 form of histone H3 or heterochromatin and reduces the amount of dimethyl lysine 4 form of histone H3, a part of active chromatin, on viral lytic-gene promoters. Thus, HSV, and in particular the HSV LAT gene, may manipulate the cellular histone modification machinery to repress its lytic-gene expression and contribute to the persistence of its genome in a quiescent form in sensory neurons.