Deletion of Murine Gammaherpesvirus Gene M2 in Activation-Induced Cytidine Deaminase-Expressing B Cells Impairs Host Colonization and Viral Reactivation

J Virol. 2020 Dec 9;95(1):e01933-20. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01933-20. Print 2020 Dec 9.


Gammaherpesviruses (GHVs) are DNA tumor viruses that establish lifelong, chronic infections in lymphocytes of humans and other mammals. GHV infections are associated with numerous cancers, especially in immunocompromised hosts. While it is known that GHVs utilize host germinal center (GC) B cell responses during latency establishment, an understanding of how viral gene products function in specific B cell subsets to regulate this process is incomplete. Using murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV68) as a small-animal model to define mechanisms of GHV pathogenesis in vivo, we generated a virus in which the M2 gene was flanked by loxP sites (M2.loxP), enabling the use of Cre-lox technology to define M2 function in specific cell types in infection and disease. The M2 gene encodes a protein that is highly expressed in GC B cells that promotes plasma cell differentiation and viral reactivation. M2 was efficiently deleted in Cre-expressing cells, and the presence of loxP sites flanking M2 did not alter viral replication or latency in mice that do not express Cre. In contrast, M2.loxP MHV68 exhibited a deficit in latency establishment and reactivation that resembled M2-null virus, following intranasal (IN) infection of mice that express Cre in all B cells (CD19-Cre). Nearly identical phenotypes were observed for M2.loxP MHV68 in mice that express Cre in germinal center (GC) B cells (AID-Cre). However, colonization of neither draining lymph nodes after IN infection nor the spleen after intraperitoneal (IP) infection required M2, although the reactivation defect was retained. Together, these data confirm that M2 function is B cell-specific and demonstrate that M2 primarily functions in AID-expressing cells to facilitate MHV68 dissemination to distal latency reservoirs within the host and reactivation from latency. Our study reveals that a viral latency gene functions within a distinct subset of cells to facilitate host colonization.IMPORTANCE Gammaherpesviruses establish lifelong chronic infections in cells of the immune system that can lead to lymphomas and other diseases. To facilitate colonization of a host, gammaherpesviruses encode gene products that manipulate processes involved in cellular proliferation and differentiation. Whether and how these viral gene products function in specific cells of the immune system is poorly defined. We report here the use of a viral genetic system that allows for deletion of specific viral genes in discrete populations of cells. We employ this system in an in vivo model to demonstrate cell-type-specific requirements for a particular viral gene. Our findings reveal that a viral gene product can function in distinct cellular subsets to direct gammaherpesvirus pathogenesis.

Keywords: B cells; M2; MHV68; activation-induced cytidine deaminase; gammaherpesvirus; latency; murid herpesvirus 4; murine gammaherpesvirus 68; reactivation; tumor virus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD19 / metabolism
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / virology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cytidine Deaminase / immunology*
  • Germinal Center / immunology
  • Germinal Center / virology
  • Herpesviridae Infections / immunology
  • Herpesviridae Infections / virology*
  • Lymphoid Tissue / immunology
  • Lymphoid Tissue / virology
  • Mice
  • Rhadinovirus / genetics
  • Rhadinovirus / metabolism
  • Rhadinovirus / physiology*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / immunology*
  • Virus Activation*
  • Virus Latency


  • Antigens, CD19
  • CD19 antigen, mouse
  • M2 protein, murine gammaherpesvirus 68
  • Viral Proteins
  • Cytidine Deaminase