Journal of virology

Host Tumor Suppressor p18INK4c Functions as a Potent Cell-Intrinsic Inhibitor of Murine Gammaherpesvirus 68 Reactivation and Pathogenesis.

PMID 29298882


Gammaherpesviruses are common viruses associated with lifelong infection and increased disease risk. Reactivation from latency aids the virus in maintaining infection throughout the life of the host and is responsible for a wide array of disease outcomes. Previously, we demonstrated that the virus-encoded cyclin (v-cyclin) of murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (γHV68) is essential for optimal reactivation from latency in normal mice but not in mice lacking the host tumor suppressor p18INK4c (p18). Whether p18 plays a cell-intrinsic or -extrinsic role in constraining reactivation remains unclear. Here, we generated recombinant viruses in which we replaced the viral cyclin with the cellular p18INK4c gene (p18KI) for targeted expression of p18, specifically within infected cells. We find that the p18KI virus is similar to the cyclin-deficient virus (cycKO) in lytic infection, establishment of latency, and infected cell reservoirs. While the cycKO virus is capable of reactivation in p18-deficient mice, expression of p18 from the p18KI virus results in a profound reactivation defect. These data demonstrate that p18 limits reactivation within latently infected cells, functioning in a cell-intrinsic manner. Further, the p18KI virus showed greater attenuation of virus-induced lethal pneumonia than the cycKO virus, indicating that p18 could further restrict γHV68 pathogenesis even in p18-sufficient mice. These studies demonstrate that host p18 imposes the requirement for the viral cyclin to reactivate from latency by functioning in latently infected cells and that p18 expression is associated with decreased disease, thereby identifying p18 as a compelling host target to limit chronic gammaherpesvirus pathogenesis.IMPORTANCE Gammaherpesviruses are ubiquitous viruses associated with multiple malignancies. The propensity to cycle between latency and reactivation results in an infection that is never cleared and often difficult to treat. Understanding the balance between latency and reactivation is integral to treating gammaherpesvirus infection and associated disease outcomes. This work characterizes the role of a novel inhibitor of reactivation, host p18INK4c, thereby bringing more clarity to a complex process with significant outcomes for infected individuals.