The Human Cytomegalovirus UL97 Protein Kinase, an Antiviral Drug Target, Is Required at the Stage of Nuclear Egress

J Virol. 2003 Jan;77(2):905-14. doi: 10.1128/jvi.77.2.905-914.2003.


Human cytomegalovirus encodes an unusual protein kinase, UL97, that activates the established antiviral drug ganciclovir and is specifically inhibited by a new antiviral drug, maribavir. We used maribavir and a UL97 null mutant, which is severely deficient in viral replication, to determine what stage of virus infection critically requires UL97. Compared with wild-type virus, there was little or no decrease in immediate-early gene expression, viral DNA synthesis, late gene expression, or packaging of viral DNA into nuclease-resistant structures in mutant-infected or maribavir-treated cells under conditions where the virus yield was severely impaired. Electron microscopy studies revealed similar proportions of various capsid forms, including DNA-containing capsids, in the nuclei of wild-type- and mutant-infected cells. However, capsids were rare in the cytoplasm of mutant-infected or maribavir-treated cells; the magnitudes of these decreases in cytoplasmic capsids were similar to those for virus yield. Thus, genetic and pharmacological evidence indicates that UL97 is required at the stage of infection when nucleocapsids exit from the nucleus (nuclear egress), and this poorly understood stage of virus infection can be targeted by antiviral drugs. Understanding UL97 function and maribavir action should help elucidate this interesting biological process and help identify new antiviral drug targets for an important pathogen in immunocompromised patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Base Sequence
  • Capsid / metabolism
  • Capsid / ultrastructure
  • Cell Nucleus / virology*
  • Cytomegalovirus / drug effects*
  • Cytomegalovirus / enzymology
  • Cytomegalovirus / physiology
  • Cytoplasm / virology
  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral / physiology
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor) / drug effects*
  • Virus Assembly


  • Antiviral Agents
  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Viral
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor)
  • ganciclovir kinase