Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) establishes lifelong neuronal latency in most humans world-wide, reactivating in one-third to cause herpes zoster and occasionally chronic pain. How VZV establishes, maintains and reactivates from latency is largely unknown. VZV transcription during latency is restricted to the latency-associated transcript (VLT) and RNA 63 (encoding ORF63) in naturally VZV-infected human trigeminal ganglia (TG). While significantly more abundant, VLT levels positively correlated with RNA 63 suggesting co-regulated transcription during latency. Here, we identify VLT-ORF63 fusion transcripts and confirm VLT-ORF63, but not RNA 63, expression in human TG neurons. During in vitro latency, VLT is transcribed, whereas VLT-ORF63 expression is induced by reactivation stimuli. One isoform of VLT-ORF63, encoding a fusion protein combining VLT and ORF63 proteins, induces broad viral gene transcription. Collectively, our findings show that VZV expresses a unique set of VLT-ORF63 transcripts, potentially involved in the transition from latency to lytic VZV infection.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)