Herpes simplex virus UL12.5 targets mitochondria through a mitochondrial localization sequence proximal to the N terminus

J Virol. 2009 Mar;83(6):2601-10. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02087-08. Epub 2009 Jan 7.


The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) gene UL12 encodes a conserved alkaline DNase with orthologues in all herpesviruses. The HSV-1 UL12 gene gives rise to two separately promoted 3' coterminal mRNAs which encode distinct but related proteins: full-length UL12 and UL12.5, an amino-terminally truncated form that initiates at UL12 codon 127. Full-length UL12 localizes to the nucleus where it promotes the generation of mature viral genomes from larger precursors. In contrast, UL12.5 is predominantly mitochondrial and acts to trigger degradation of the mitochondrial genome early during infection. We examined the basis for these very different subcellular localization patterns. We confirmed an earlier report that the amino-terminal region of full-length UL12 is required for nuclear localization and provide evidence that multiple nuclear localization determinants are present in this region. In addition, we demonstrate that mitochondrial localization of UL12.5 relies largely on sequences located between UL12 residues 185 and 245 (UL12.5 residues 59 to 119). This region contains a sequence that resembles a typical mitochondrial matrix localization signal, and mutations that reduce the positive charge of this element severely impaired mitochondrial localization. Consistent with matrix localization, UL12.5 displayed a detergent extraction profile indistinguishable from that of the matrix protein cyclophilin D. Mitochondrial DNA depletion required the exonuclease activity of UL12.5, consistent with the idea that UL12.5 located within the matrix acts directly to destroy the mitochondrial genome. These results clarify how two highly related viral proteins are targeted to different subcellular locations with distinct functional consequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution / genetics
  • Animals
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism
  • Deoxyribonucleases / genetics
  • Deoxyribonucleases / metabolism*
  • Exodeoxyribonucleases / metabolism
  • HeLa Cells
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / virology*
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Protein Sorting Signals / genetics*
  • Vero Cells
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Protein Sorting Signals
  • Viral Proteins
  • Deoxyribonucleases
  • Exodeoxyribonucleases
  • UL12 protein, herpes simplex virus 1