Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) glycoproteins H and L (gH/gL) can be bound by either gO or the UL128 to UL131 proteins (referred to here as UL128-131) to form complexes that facilitate entry and spread, and the complexes formed are important targets of neutralizing antibodies. Strains of HCMV vary considerably in the levels of gH/gL/gO and gH/gL/UL128-131, and this can impact infectivity and cell tropism. In this study, we investigated how natural interstrain variation in the amino acid sequence of gO influences the biology of HCMV. Heterologous gO recombinants were constructed in which 6 of the 8 alleles or genotypes (GT) of gO were analyzed in the backgrounds of strains TR and Merlin (ME). The levels of gH/gL complexes were not affected, but there were impacts on entry, spread, and neutralization by anti-gH antibodies. AD169 (AD) gO (GT1a) [referred to here as ADgO(GT1a)] drastically reduced cell-free infectivity of both strains on fibroblasts and epithelial cells. PHgO(GT2a) increased cell-free infectivity of TR in both cell types, but spread in fibroblasts was impaired. In contrast, spread of ME in both cell types was enhanced by Towne (TN) gO (GT4), despite similar cell-free infectivity. TR expressing TNgO(GT4) was resistant to neutralization by anti-gH antibodies AP86 and 14-4b, whereas ADgO(GT1a) conferred resistance to 14-4b but enhanced neutralization by AP86. Conversely, ME expressing ADgO(GT1a) was more resistant to 14-4b. These results suggest that (i) there are mechanistically distinct roles for gH/gL/gO in cell-free and cell-to-cell spread, (ii) gO isoforms can differentially shield the virus from neutralizing antibodies, and (iii) effects of gO polymorphisms are epistatically dependent on other variable loci. IMPORTANCE Advances in HCMV population genetics have greatly outpaced understanding of the links between genetic diversity and phenotypic variation. Moreover, recombination between genotypes may shuffle variable loci into various combinations with unknown outcomes. UL74(gO) is an important determinant of HCMV infectivity and one of the most diverse loci in the viral genome. By analyzing interstrain heterologous UL74(gO) recombinants, we showed that gO diversity can have dramatic impacts on cell-free and cell-to-cell spread as well as on antibody neutralization and that the manifestation of these impacts can be subject to epistatic influences of the global genetic background. These results highlight the potential limitations of laboratory studies of HCMV biology that use single, isolated genotypes or strains.
- Antibody neutralization
- Genetic diversity