Heterodimers of glycoproteins H (gH) and L (gL) comprise a basal element of the viral membrane fusion machinery conserved across herpesviruses. In human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), the glycoprotein UL116 assembles onto gH at a position similar to that occupied by gL, forming a heterodimer that is incorporated into virions. Here, we show that UL116 promotes the expression of gH/gL complexes and is required for the efficient production of infectious cell-free virions. UL116-null mutants show a 10-fold defect in production of infectious cell-free virions from infected fibroblasts and epithelial cells. This defect is accompanied by reduced expression of two disulfide-linked gH/gL complexes that play crucial roles in viral entry: the heterotrimer of gH/gL with glycoprotein O (gO) and the pentameric complex of gH/gL with UL128, UL130, and UL131. Kifunensine, a mannosidase inhibitor that interferes with endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-associated degradation (ERAD) of terminally misfolded glycoproteins, restored levels of gH, gL, and gO in UL116-null-infected cells, indicating that constituents of HCMV gH complexes are unstable in the absence of UL116. Further, we find that gH/UL116 complexes are abundant in virions, since a major gH species not covalently linked to other glycoproteins, which has long been observed in the literature, is detected from wild-type but not UL116-null virions. Interestingly, UL116 coimmunoprecipitates with UL148, a viral ER-resident glycoprotein that attenuates ERAD of gO, and we observe elevated levels of UL116 in UL148-null virions. Collectively, our findings argue that UL116 is a chaperone for gH that supports the assembly, maturation, and incorporation of gH/gL complexes into virions. IMPORTANCE HCMV is a betaherpesvirus that causes dangerous opportunistic infections in immunocompromised patients as well as in the immune-naive fetus and preterm infants. The potential of the virus to enter new host cells is governed in large part by two alternative viral glycoprotein H (gH)/glycoprotein L (gL) complexes that play important roles in entry: gH/gL/gO and gH/gL/UL128-131. A recently identified virion gH complex, comprised of gH bound to UL116, adds a new layer of complexity to the mechanisms that contribute to HCMV infectivity. Here, we show that UL116 promotes the expression of gH/gL complexes and that UL116 interacts with the viral ER-resident glycoprotein UL148, a factor that supports the expression of gH/gL/gO. Overall, our results suggest that UL116 is a chaperone for gH. These findings have important implications for understanding HCMV cell tropism as well as for the development of vaccines against the virus.
- Human herpesviruses
- Virion structure