B cell-intrinsic STAT3-mediated support of latency and interferon suppression during murine gammaherpesvirus 68 infection revealed through an in vivo competition model

bioRxiv. 2023 Mar 22;2023.03.22.533727. doi: 10.1101/2023.03.22.533727. Preprint


Cancers associated with the oncogenic gammaherpesviruses, Epstein-Barr virus and Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus, are notable for their constitutive activation of the transcription factor STAT3. To better understand the role of STAT3 during gammaherpesvirus latency and immune control, we utilized murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV68) infection. Genetic deletion of STAT3 in B cells of CD19 cre/+ Stat3 f/f mice reduced peak latency approximately 7-fold. However, infected CD19 cre/+ Stat3 f/f mice exhibited disordered germinal centers and heightened virus-specific CD8 T cell responses compared to WT littermates. To circumvent the systemic immune alterations observed in the B cell-STAT3 knockout mice and more directly evaluate intrinsic roles for STAT3, we generated mixed bone marrow chimeras consisting of WT and STAT3-knockout B cells. Using a competitive model of infection, we discovered a dramatic reduction in latency in STAT3-knockout B cells compared to their WT B cell counterparts in the same lymphoid organ. RNA sequencing of sorted germinal center B cells revealed that STAT3 promotes proliferation and B cell processes of the germinal center but does not directly regulate viral gene expression. Last, this analysis uncovered a STAT3-dependent role for dampening type I IFN responses in newly infected B cells. Together, our data provide mechanistic insight into the role of STAT3 as a latency determinant in B cells for oncogenic gammaherpesviruses.

Importance: There are no directed therapies to the latency program of the gammaherpesviruses, Epstein-Barr virus and Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus. Activated host factor STAT3 is a hallmark of cancers caused by these viruses. We applied the murine gammaherpesvirus pathogen system to explore STAT3 function upon primary B cell infection in the host. Since STAT3 deletion in all CD19+ B cells of infected mice led to altered B and T cell responses, we generated chimeric mice with both normal and STAT3-deleted B cells. B cells lacking STAT3 failed to support virus latency compared to normal B cells from the same infected animal. Loss of STAT3 impaired B cell proliferation and differentiation and led to a striking upregulation of interferon-stimulated genes. These findings expand our understanding of STAT3-dependent processes key to its function as a pro-viral latency determinant for oncogenic gammaherpesviruses in B cells and may provide novel therapeutic targets.

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