Rauwel B, Jang SM, Cassano M, Kapopoulou A, Barde I, Trono D
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a highly prevalent pathogen that induces life-long infections notably through the establishment of latency in hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). Bouts of reactivation are normally controlled by the immune system, but can be fatal in immuno-compromised individuals such as organ transplant recipients. Here, we reveal that HCMV latency in human CD34(+) HSC reflects the recruitment on the viral genome of KAP1, a master co-repressor, together with HP1 and the SETDB1 histone methyltransferase, which results in transcriptional silencing. During lytic infection, KAP1 is still associated with the viral genome, but its heterochromatin-inducing activity is suppressed by mTOR-mediated phosphorylation. Correspondingly, HCMV can be forced out of latency by KAP1 knockdown or pharmacological induction of KAP1 phosphorylation, and this process can be potentiated by activating NFkB with TNF-α. These results suggest new approaches both to curtail CMV infection and to purge the virus from organ transplants.