Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is the cause of three human malignancies: Kaposi's sarcoma, primary effusion lymphoma, and the plasma cell variant of multicentric Castleman disease. Previous research has shown that several cellular tyrosine kinases play crucial roles during several steps in the virus replication cycle. Two KSHV proteins also have protein kinase function: open reading frame (ORF) 36 encodes a serine-threonine kinase, while ORF21 encodes a thymidine kinase (TK), which has recently been found to be an efficient tyrosine kinase. In this study, we explore the role of the ORF21 tyrosine kinase function in KSHV lytic replication. By generating a recombinant KSHV mutant with an enzymatically inactive ORF21 protein, we show that the tyrosine kinase function of ORF21/TK is not required for the progression of the lytic replication in tissue culture but that it is essential for the phosphorylation and activation to toxic moieties of the antiviral drugs zidovudine and brivudine. In addition, we identify several tyrosine kinase inhibitors, already in clinical use against human malignancies, which potently inhibit not only ORF21 TK kinase function but also viral lytic reactivation and the development of KSHV-infected endothelial tumors in mice. Since they target both cellular tyrosine kinases and a viral kinase, some of these compounds might find a use in the treatment of KSHV-associated malignancies.IMPORTANCE Our findings address the role of KSHV ORF21 as a tyrosine kinase during lytic replication and the activation of prodrugs in KSHV-infected cells. We also show the potential of selected clinically approved tyrosine kinase inhibitors to inhibit KSHV TK, KSHV lytic replication, infectious virion release, and the development of an endothelial tumor. Since they target both cellular tyrosine kinases supporting productive viral replication and a viral kinase, these drugs, which are already approved for clinical use, may be suitable for repurposing for the treatment of KSHV-related tumors in AIDS patients or transplant recipients.
Keywords: KSHV; Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus; ORF21; inhibitors; lytic reactivation; tumor growth; tyrosine kinase.
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