Stable DNA-transfected Vero cell lines that express the major immediate-early nuclear antigen (IE68) of HCMV-(Towne) have been established. Immunofluorescence staining with monoclonal antibodies revealed that the protein was distributed either in a uniform diffuse nuclear pattern or as punctate nuclear granules in up to 80% of the cells in these cultures. In addition, 1 to 2% of the positive nuclei gave a distinctive staining pattern suggesting an association with the chromosomes of mitotic cells. Colcemid-blocking studies confirmed that most of the IE antigen was localized in the vicinity of condensed chromosomes in all metaphase cells after methanol fixation. In contrast, the SV40 large T-antigen protein was found to be preferentially excluded from metaphase chromosomes in a similar colcemid-treated human cell line. In transient expression assays, 1 to 2% of IE antigen-positive Vero, 293, or Balb/c3T3 cells also displayed a metaphase chromosome association pattern. Mapping studies using deletion and truncation mutants revealed that the monoclonal antibodies recognized epitopes encoded within the small NH2-terminal exons that are common to both the IE1 and IE2 gene products. However, an intact exon-4 (IE1) region, but not the exon-5 (IE2) region of the HCMV IE gene complex, was required for conferring both the normal diffuse nuclear localization pattern and the chromosome-association properties. Furthermore, removal of the glutamic acid-rich COOH-terminal coding portions of exon-4 resulted in aberrant staining patterns with production of large, phase-dense nuclear globules in all positive cells. An association between the IE68 IE1 protein and metaphase chromosomes was also detected after HCMV-(Towne) infection in a small proportion of both nonpermissive Balb/c3T3 cells and permissive HF cells. We conclude that the IE1 acidic nuclear phosphoprotein displays some properties similar to those of the EBNA-1 protein of Epstein-Barr virus and suggest that it may potentially play a role in maintenance of the latent state of HCMV DNA.
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