Barrier-to-autointegration factor (BAF) is a DNA binding protein with multiple cellular functions, including the ability to act as a potent defense against vaccinia virus infection. This antiviral function involves BAF's ability to condense double-stranded DNA and subsequently prevent viral DNA replication. In recent years, it has become increasingly evident that dynamic phosphorylation involving the vaccinia virus B1 kinase and cellular enzymes is likely a key regulator of multiple BAF functions; however, the precise mechanisms are poorly understood. Here we analyzed how phosphorylation impacts BAF's DNA binding, subcellular localization, dimerization, and antipoxviral activity through the characterization of BAF phosphomimetic and unphosphorylatable mutants. Our studies demonstrate that increased phosphorylation enhances BAF's mobilization from the nucleus to the cytosol, while dephosphorylation restricts BAF to the nucleus. Phosphorylation also impairs both BAF's dimerization and its DNA binding activity. Furthermore, our studies of BAF's antiviral activity revealed that hyperphosphorylated BAF is unable to suppress viral DNA replication or virus production. Interestingly, the unphosphorylatable BAF mutant, which is capable of binding DNA but localizes predominantly to the nucleus, was also incapable of suppressing viral replication. Thus, both DNA binding and localization are important determinants of BAF's antiviral function. Finally, our examination of how phosphatases are involved in regulating BAF revealed that PP2A dephosphorylates BAF during vaccinia infection, thus counterbalancing the activity of the B1 kinase. Altogether, these data demonstrate that phosphoregulation of BAF by viral and cellular enzymes modulates this protein at multiple molecular levels, thus determining its effectiveness as an antiviral factor and likely other functions as well.
Importance: The barrier-to-autointegration factor (BAF) contributes to cellular genomic integrity in multiple ways, the best characterized of which are as a host defense against cytoplasmic DNA and as a regulator of mitotic nuclear reassembly. Although dynamic phosphorylation involving both viral and cellular enzymes is likely a key regulator of multiple BAF functions, the precise mechanisms involved are poorly understood. Here we demonstrate that phosphorylation coordinately regulates BAF's DNA binding, subcellular localization, dimerization, and antipoxviral activity. Overall, our findings provide new insights into how phosphoregulation of BAF modulates this protein at multiple levels and governs its effectiveness as an antiviral factor against foreign DNA.