Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), strain AD169, contains four genes (US27, US28, UL33, and UL78) that encode putative homologues of cellular G protein-coupled receptors (GCRs). GCRs transduce extracellular signals to alter intracellular processes, and there is evidence that HCMV may elicit such changes at early times following infection. The US27, US28, and UL33 genes are transcribed during infection, and the US28 gene product has been found to be a functional receptor for the β-chemokine class of immune modulators. The US27, UL33, and UL78 gene products have not been described and we have concentrated on identifying the UL33 protein because it is the most highly conserved of the GCR homologues among the human β and γ herpesviruses. We report here cloning UL33 into a recombinant baculovirus (rBV) and expressing it in insect cells; constructing a mutant HCMV with a disrupted UL33 gene; and identifying the UL33 protein in HCMV-infected cells and virus particles. Our results demonstrate that the UL33 protein (i) is expressed as a ~36-kDa, heat aggregatable protein in rBV-infected cells, (ii) is modified heterogeneously by asparagine-linked glycosylation and expressed as a ≤58-kDa glycoprotein that is present in the region of the cytoplasmic inclusions in HCMV-infected fibroblasts, (iii) is present in virions and two other enveloped virus particles, and (iv) is not essential for growth of HCMV in human foreskin fibroblast cultures.
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