Scientific reports 2016 08 266() 32128 doi 10.1038/srep32128
The human gammaherpesviruses Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), which are associated with a variety of diseases including tumors, produce various small noncoding RNAs (sncRNAs) such as microRNAs (miRNAs). Like all herpesviruses, they show two stages in their life cycle: lytic replication and latency. During latency, hardly any viral proteins are expressed to avoid recognition by the immune system. Thus, sncRNAs might be exploited since they are less likely to be recognized. Specifically, it has been proposed that sncRNAs might contribute to the maintenance of latency. This has already been shown in vitro, but the respective evidence in vivo is very limited. A natural model system to explore this question in vivo is infection of mice with murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV-68). We used this model to analyze a MHV-68 mutant lacking the expression of all miRNAs. In the absence of the miRNAs, we observed a higher viral genomic load during late latency in the spleens of mice. We propose that this is due to a disturbed regulation of the latent-to-lytic switch, altering the balance between latent and lytic infection. Hence, we provide for the first time evidence that gammaherpesvirus sncRNAs contribute to the maintenance of latency in vivo.