Critical Role for the Human Cytomegalovirus Major Immediate Early Proteins in Recruitment of RNA Polymerase II and H3K27Ac To an Enhancer-Like Element in Ori Lyt

Microbiol Spectr. 2023 Feb 14;11(1):e0314422. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.03144-22. Epub 2023 Jan 16.


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is an opportunistic pathogen that infects most of the population. The complex 236 kbp genome encodes more than 170 open reading frames, whose expression is temporally regulated by both viral transcriptional regulators and cellular factors that control chromatin and transcription. Here, we have used state of the art genomic technologies to investigate the viral transcriptome in conjunction with 2 key transcriptional regulators: Pol II and H3K27Ac. Although it is well known that the major immediate early (IE) proteins activate early gene expression through both direct and indirect interactions, and that histone modifications play an important role in regulating viral gene expression, the role of the IE proteins in modulating viral chromatin is not fully understood. To address this question, we have used a virus engineered for conditional expression of the IE proteins combined with RNA and Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analyses to assess the role of these proteins in modulating both viral chromatin and gene expression. Our results show that (i) there is an enhancer-like element in OriLyt that is extraordinarily enriched in H3K27Ac; (ii) in addition to activation of viral gene expression, the IE proteins play a critical role in recruitment of Pol II and H3K27Ac to this element. IMPORTANCE HCMV is an important human pathogen associated with complications in transplant patients and birth defects. The complex program of viral gene expression is regulated by both viral proteins and host factors. Here, we have investigated the role of the immediate early proteins in regulating the viral epigenome. Our results show that the viral immediate early proteins bring about an enormous enrichment of H3K27Ac marks at the OriLyt RNA4.9 promoter, concomitant with an increase in RNA4.9 expression. This epigenetic characteristic adds importantly to the view that OriLyt has structural and functional characteristics of a strong enhancer that, we now discover, is regulated by IE proteins.

Keywords: cytomegalovirus; epigenetics; gene expression; herpesviruses; host-pathogen interactions; transcriptional regulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chromatin / genetics
  • Cytomegalovirus / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral
  • Humans
  • Immediate-Early Proteins* / genetics
  • RNA Polymerase II / genetics
  • RNA Polymerase II / metabolism
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism


  • Immediate-Early Proteins
  • RNA Polymerase II
  • Viral Proteins
  • Chromatin