The tropism of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is influenced by the envelope glycoprotein complexes gH/gL/gO and gH/gL/UL128-131. During virion assembly, gO and the UL128-131 proteins compete for binding to gH/gL in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). This assembly process clearly differs among strains, since Merlin (ME) virions contain abundant gH/gL/UL128-131 and little gH/gL/gO, whereas TR contains much higher levels of total gH/gL, mostly in the form of gH/gL/gO, but much lower levels of gH/gL/UL128-131 than ME. Remaining questions include (i) what are the mechanisms behind these assembly differences, and (ii) do differences reflect in vitro culture adaptations or natural genetic variations? Since the UL74(gO) open reading frame (ORF) differs in 25% of amino acids between TR and ME, we analyzed recombinant viruses in which the UL74(gO) ORF was swapped. TR virions were > 40-fold more infectious than ME. Transcriptional repression of UL128-131 enhanced the infectivity of ME to the level of TR, despite still far lower levels of gH/gL/ gO. Swapping the UL74(gO) ORF had no effect on either TR or ME. A quantitative immunoprecipitation approach revealed that gH/gL expression levels were within 4-fold between TR and ME, but the gO expression level was 20-fold lower for ME, which suggested differences in mRNA transcription, translation, or rapid ERassociated degradation of gO. trans-Complementation of gO expression during ME replication gave a 6-fold enhancement of infectivity beyond the 40-fold effect of UL128-131 repression alone. Overall, strain variations in the assembly of gH/gL complexes result from differences in the expression of gO and UL128-131, and selective advantages for reduced UL128-131 expression during fibroblast propagation are much stronger than those for higher gO expression.
- Genetic diversity
- Human cytomegalovirus