Subversion of Host Responses to Energy Insufficiency by Us3 Supports Herpes Simplex Virus 1 Replication during Stress

J Virol. 2017 Jun 26;91(14):e00295-17. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00295-17. Print 2017 Jul 15.


Cellular stress responses to energy insufficiency can impact virus reproduction. In particular, activation of the host AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) by low energy could limit protein synthesis by inhibiting mTORC1. Although many herpesviruses, including herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), stimulate mTORC1, how HSV-1-infected cells respond to energy availability, a physiological indicator regulating mTORC1, has not been investigated. In addition, the impact of low-energy stress on productive HSV-1 growth and viral genetic determinants potentially enabling replication under physiological stress remains undefined. Here, we demonstrate that mTORC1 activity in HSV-1-infected cells is largely insensitive to stress induced by simulated energy insufficiency. Furthermore, resistance of mTORC1 activity to low-energy-induced stress, while not significantly influenced by the HSV-1 UL46-encoded phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)-Akt activator, was dependent upon the Ser/Thr kinase activity of Us3. A Us3-deficient virus was hypersensitive to low-energy-induced stress as infected cell protein synthesis and productive replication were reduced compared to levels in cells infected with a Us3-expressing virus. Although Us3 did not detectably prevent energy stress-induced AMPK activation, it enforced mTORC1 activation despite the presence of activated AMPK. In the absence of applied low-energy stress, AMPK activity in infected cells was restricted in a Us3-dependent manner. This establishes that the Us3 kinase not only activated mTORC1 but also enabled sustained mTORC1 signaling during simulated energy insufficiency that would otherwise restrict protein synthesis and virus replication. Moreover, it identifies the alphaherpesvirus-specific Us3 kinase as an mTORC1 activator that subverts the host cell energy-sensing program to support viral productive growth irrespective of physiological stress.IMPORTANCE Like all viruses, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) reproduction relies upon numerous host energy-intensive processes, the most demanding of which is protein synthesis. In response to low energy, the cellular AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) triggers a physiological stress response that antagonizes mTORC1, a multisubunit host kinase that controls protein synthesis. This could restrict virus protein production and growth. Here, we establish that the HSV-1 Us3 protein kinase subverts the normal response to low-energy-induced stress. While Us3 does not prevent AMPK activation by low energy, it enforces mTORC1 activation and overrides a physiological response that couples energy availability and protein synthesis. These results help explain how reproduction of HSV-1, a ubiquitous, medically significant human pathogen causing a spectrum of diseases ranging from the benign to the life threatening, occurs during physiological stress. This is important because HSV-1 reproduction triggered by physiological stress is characteristic of reactivation of lifelong latent infections.

Keywords: AMPK; HSV-1 replication; energy stress; mTORC1; translational control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cells, Cultured
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / physiology*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism*
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism*
  • Virus Replication*


  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Viral Proteins
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • US3 protein, Human herpesvirus 1