Human herpesvirus 6 variants A and B (HHV-6A and HHV-6B, respectively) encode homologs (U94) of the parvovirus nonstructural gene, ns1 or rep. Here we describe the HHV-6B homolog and analyze its genetic heterogeneity and transcription. U94 nucleotide and amino acid sequences differ by approximately 3.5% and 2.5%, respectively, between HHV-6A and HHV-6B. Among a collection of 17 clinically and geographically disparate HHV-6 isolates, intravariant nucleotide and amino acid sequence divergence was less than 0.6% and 0.2%, respectively; all 13 HHV-6B isolates had identical amino acid sequences. The U94 transcript is spliced to remove a 2.6-kb intron and is expressed at very low levels relative to other HHV-6B genes, reaching approximately 10 copies per cell 3 days after infection. The mRNA has several small AUG-initiated open reading frames upstream of the U94 open reading frame, a hallmark of proteins expressed at low levels. Consistent with this, the U94-encoded protein was immunologically undetectable in HHV-6B-infected cells. The high degree of sequence conservation suggests that the gene function is nearly intolerant of sequence variation. The low abundance of U94 transcripts and the presence of encoded inefficient translation initiation suggest that the U94 protein may be required only in small amounts during infection.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.