Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is a gammaherpesvirus that has been associated with primary effusion lymphoma and multicentric Castleman’s disease, as well as its namesake Kaposi’s sarcoma. As a gammaherpesvirus, KSHV is able to acutely replicate, enter latency, and reactivate from this latent state. A key protein involved in both acute replication and reactivation from latency is the replication and transcriptional activator (RTA) encoded by the gene Orf50 RTA is a known transactivator of multiple viral genes, allowing it to control the switch between latency and virus replication. We report here the identification of six alternatively spliced Orf50 transcripts that are generated from four distinct promoters. These newly identified promoters are shown to be transcriptionally active in 293T (embryonic kidney), Vero (African-green monkey kidney epithelial), 3T12 (mouse fibroblast), and RAW 264.7 (mouse macrophage) cell lines. Notably, the newly identified Orf50 transcripts are predicted to encode four different isoforms of the RTA which differ by 6 to 10 residues at the amino terminus of the protein. We show the global viral transactivation potential of all four RTA isoforms and demonstrate that all isoforms can transcriptionally activate an array of KSHV promoters to various levels. The pattern of transcriptional activation appears to support a transcriptional interference model within the Orf50 region, where silencing of previously expressed isoforms by transcription initiation from upstream Orf50 promoters has the potential to modulate the pattern of viral gene activation.
Gammaherpesviruses are associated with the development of lymphomas and lymphoproliferative diseases, as well as several other types of cancer. The human gammaherpesvirus, Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), is tightly associated with the development of Kaposi’s sarcoma and multicentric Castleman’s disease, as well as a rare form of B cell lymphoma (primary effusion lymphoma) primarily observed in HIV-infected individuals. RTA is an essential viral gene product involved in the initiation of gammaherpesvirus replication and is conserved among all known gammaherpesviruses. We show here for KSHV that transcription of the gene encoding RTA is complex and leads to the expression of several isoforms of RTA with distinct functions. This observed complexity in KSHV RTA expression and function likely plays a critical role in the regulation of downstream viral and cellular gene expression, leading to the efficient production of mature virions.