Inherited Chromosomally Integrated Human Herpesvirus 6 Demonstrates Tissue-Specific RNA Expression In Vivo That Correlates with an Increased Antibody Immune Response

J Virol. 2019 Dec 12;94(1):e01418-19. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01418-19. Print 2019 Dec 12.


Human herpesviruses 6A and 6B (HHV-6A and HHV-6B) are human viruses capable of chromosomal integration. Approximately 1% of the human population carries one copy of HHV-6A/B integrated into every cell in their body, referred to as inherited chromosomally integrated human herpesvirus 6A/B (iciHHV-6A/B). Whether iciHHV-6A/B is transcriptionally active in vivo and how it shapes the immunological response are still unclear. In this study, we screened DNA sequencing (DNA-seq) and transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) data for 650 individuals available through the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project and identified 2 iciHHV-6A- and 4 iciHHV-6B-positive candidates. When corresponding tissue-specific gene expression signatures were analyzed, low levels HHV-6A/B gene expression was found across multiple tissues, with the highest levels of gene expression in the brain (specifically for HHV-6A), testis, esophagus, and adrenal gland. U90 and U100 were the most highly expressed HHV-6 genes in both iciHHV-6A- and iciHHV-6B-positive individuals. To assess whether tissue-specific gene expression from iciHHV-6A/B influences the immune response, a cohort of 15,498 subjects was screened and 85 iciHHV-6A/B+ subjects were identified. Plasma samples from iciHHV-6A/B+ and age- and sex-matched controls were analyzed for antibodies to control antigens (cytomegalovirus [CMV], Epstein-Barr virus [EBV], and influenza virus [FLU]) or HHV-6A/B antigens. Our results indicate that iciHHV-6A/B+ subjects have significantly more antibodies against the U90 gene product (IE1) than do non-iciHHV-6-positive individuals. Antibody responses against EBV and FLU antigens or HHV-6A/B gene products either not expressed or expressed at low levels, such as U47, U57, and U72, were identical between controls and iciHHV-6A/B+ subjects. CMV-seropositive individuals with iciHHV-6A/B+ have more antibodies against CMV pp150 than do CMV-seropositive controls. These results argue that spontaneous gene expression from integrated HHV-6A/B leads to an increase in antigenic burden that translates into a more robust HHV-6A/B-specific antibody response.IMPORTANCE HHV-6A and -6B are human herpesviruses that have the unique property of being able to integrate into the telomeric regions of human chromosomes. Approximately 1% of the world's population carries integrated HHV-6A/B genome in every cell of their body. Whether viral genes are transcriptionally active in these individuals is unclear. By taking advantage of a unique tissue-specific gene expression data set, we showed that the majority of tissues from iciHHV-6 individuals do not show HHV-6 gene expression. Brain and testes showed the highest tissue-specific expression of HHV-6 genes in two separate data sets. Two HHV-6 genes, U90 (immediate early 1 protein) and U100 (glycoproteins Q1 and Q2), were found to be selectively and consistently expressed across several human tissues. Expression of U90 translates into an increase in antigen-specific antibody response in iciHHV-6A/B+ subjects relative to controls. Future studies will be needed to determine the mechanism of gene expression, the effects of these genes on human gene transcription networks, and the pathophysiological impact of having increased viral protein expression in tissue in conjunction with increased antigen-specific antibody production.

Keywords: GTEx; Genotype Tissue Expression project; HHV-6; Human herpesvirus 6; IE1; LIPS; U90; antibody response; ciHHV-6; iciHHV-6.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / immunology
  • Adrenal Glands / virology
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • Brain / immunology
  • Brain / virology
  • Chromosomes, Human / chemistry*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cytomegalovirus / immunology
  • Esophagus / immunology
  • Esophagus / virology
  • Female
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / classification
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / genetics*
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / immunology
  • Humans
  • Inheritance Patterns
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Specificity
  • Orthomyxoviridae / immunology
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Viral / genetics*
  • RNA, Viral / immunology
  • Roseolovirus Infections / genetics
  • Roseolovirus Infections / immunology
  • Roseolovirus Infections / virology*
  • Testis / immunology
  • Testis / virology
  • Virus Integration
  • Whole Genome Sequencing


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • RNA, Viral

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