miRNA-mediated targeting of human cytomegalovirus reveals biological host and viral targets of IE2.

Moller, R., Schwarz, T. M., Noriega, V. M., Panis, M., Sachs, D., Tortorella, D. and tenOever, B. R.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 18/01/2018

PMID: 29339472


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) impacts more than one-half of the human population owing to its capacity to manipulate the cell and create latent reservoirs in the host. Despite an extensive understanding of HCMV biology during acute infection in fibroblasts, the molecular basis for latency in myeloid cells remains incomplete. This knowledge gap is due largely to the fact that the existing genetic systems require virus rescue in fibroblasts, precluding the study of genes that are essential during acute infection, yet likely play unique roles in myeloid cells or the establishment of latency. Here we present a solution to address this restriction. Through the exploitation of a hematopoietic-specific microRNA, we demonstrate a one-step recombineering approach that enables gene silencing only in cells associated with latency. As a proof of concept, here we describe a TB40/E variant that undergoes hematopoietic targeting of the Immediate Early-2 (IE2) gene to explore its function during infection of myeloid cells. While virus replication of the hematopoietic-targeted IE2 variant was unimpaired in fibroblasts, we observed a >100-fold increase in virus titers in myeloid cells. Virus replication in myeloid cells demonstrated that IE2 has a significant transcriptional footprint on both viral and host genes. These data implicate IE2 as an essential mediator of virus biology in myeloid cells and illustrate the utility of cell-specific microRNA-based targeting.