H2AX phosphorylation and DNA damage kinase activity are dispensable for herpes simplex virus replication

Virol J. 2016 Jan 27:13:15. doi: 10.1186/s12985-016-0470-1.


Background: Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) can establish both lytic and latent infections in humans. The phosphorylation of histone H2AX, a common marker of DNA damage, during lytic infection by HSV-1 is well established. However, the role(s) of H2AX phosphorylation in lytic infection remain unclear.

Methods: Following infection of human foreskin fibroblasts by HSV-1 or HSV-2, we assayed the phosphorylation of H2AX in the presence of inhibitors of transcription, translation, or viral DNA replication, or in the presence of inhibitors of ATM and ATR kinases (KU-55933 and VE-821, respectively). We also assayed viral replication in fibroblasts in the presence of the kinase inhibitors or siRNAs specific for ATM and ATR, as well as in cell lines deficient for either ATR or ATM.

Results: The expression of viral immediate-early and early proteins (including the viral DNA polymerase), but not viral DNA replication or late protein expression, were required for H2AX phosphorylation following HSV-1 infection. Inhibition of ATM kinase activity prevented HSV-stimulated H2AX phosphorylation but had only a minor effect on DNA replication and virus yield in HFF cells. These results differ from previous reports of a dramatic reduction in viral yield following chemical inhibition of ATM in oral keratinocytes or following infection of ATM(-/-) cells. Inhibition of the closely related kinase ATR (whether by chemical inhibitor or siRNA disruption) had no effect on H2AX phosphorylation and reduced viral DNA replication only moderately. During infection by HSV-2, H2AX phosphorylation was similarly dispensable but was dependent on both ATM activity and viral DNA replication.

Conclusion: H2AX phosphorylation represents a cell type-specific and virus type-specific host response to HSV infection with little impact on viral infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins / genetics
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA, Viral
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / genetics
  • Exodeoxyribonucleases / genetics
  • Herpes Simplex / genetics
  • Herpes Simplex / metabolism
  • Herpes Simplex / virology
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human / physiology
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Phosphorylation
  • Phosphotransferases / metabolism*
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Simplexvirus / physiology*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Virus Replication*


  • DNA, Viral
  • Histones
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Viral Proteins
  • Phosphotransferases
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • Exodeoxyribonucleases
  • DNA polymerase, Simplexvirus