Global bidirectional transcription of the Epstein-Barr virus genome during reactivation

J Virol. 2014 Feb;88(3):1604-16. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02989-13. Epub 2013 Nov 20.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) reactivation involves the ordered induction of approximately 90 viral genes that participate in the generation of infectious virions. Using strand-specific RNA-seq to assess the EBV transcriptome during reactivation, we found extensive bidirectional transcription extending across nearly the entire genome. In contrast, only 4% of the EBV genome is currently bidirectionally annotated. Most of the newly identified transcribed regions show little evidence of coding potential, supporting noncoding roles for most of these RNAs. Based on previous cellular long noncoding RNA size calculations, we estimate that there are likely hundreds more EBV genes expressed during reactivation than was previously known. Limited 5' and 3' rapid amplification of cDNA ends (RACE) experiments and findings of novel splicing events by RNA-seq suggest that the complexity of the viral genome during reactivation may be even greater. Further analysis of antisense transcripts at some of the EBV latency gene loci showed that they are "late" genes, they are nuclear, and they tend to localize in areas of the nucleus where others find newly synthesized viral genomes. This raises the possibility that these transcripts perform functions such as new genome processing, stabilization, organization, etc. The finding of a significantly more complex EBV transcriptome during reactivation changes our view of the viral production process from one that is facilitated and regulated almost entirely by previously identified viral proteins to a process that also involves the contribution of a wide array of virus encoded noncoding RNAs. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a herpesvirus that infects the majority of the world's population, in rare cases causing serious disease such as lymphoma and gastric carcinoma. Using strand-specific RNA-seq, we have studied viral gene expression during EBV reactivation and have discovered hundreds more viral transcripts than were previously known. The finding of alternative splicing and the prevalence of overlapping transcripts indicate additional complexity. Most newly identified transcribed regions do not encode proteins but instead likely function as noncoding RNA molecules which could participate in regulating gene expression, gene splicing or even activities such as viral genome processing. These findings broaden the scope of what we need to consider to understand the viral manufacturing process. As more detailed studies are undertaken they will likely change the way we view this process as a whole.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / virology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / genetics*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / physiology
  • Humans
  • RNA Splicing
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Virus Activation*
  • Virus Latency


  • RNA, Viral
  • Viral Proteins