Gammaherpesvirus Readthrough Transcription Generates a Long Non-Coding RNA That Is Regulated by Antisense miRNAs and Correlates with Enhanced Lytic Replication In Vivo.
Gammaherpesviruses, including the human pathogens Epstein?Barr virus (EBV) and Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) are oncogenic viruses that establish lifelong infections in hosts and are associated with the development of lymphoproliferative diseases and lymphomas. Recent studies have shown that the majority of the mammalian genome is transcribed and gives rise to numerous long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs). Likewise, the large double-stranded DNA virus genomes of herpesviruses undergo pervasive transcription, including the expression of many as yet uncharacterized lncRNAs. Murine gammaperherpesvirus 68 (MHV68, MuHV-4, ?HV68) is a natural pathogen of rodents, and is genetically and pathogenically related to EBV and KSHV, providing a highly tractable model for studies of gammaherpesvirus biology and pathogenesis. Through the integrated use of parallel data sets from multiple sequencing platforms, we previously resolved transcripts throughout the MHV68 genome, including at least 144 novel transcript isoforms. Here, we sought to molecularly validate novel transcripts identified within the M3/M2 locus, which harbors genes that code for the chemokine binding protein M3, the latency B cell signaling protein M2, and 10 microRNAs (miRNAs). Using strand-specific northern blots, we validated the presence of M3-04, a 3.91 kb polyadenylated transcript that initiates at the M3 transcription start site and reads through the M3 open reading frame (ORF), the M3 poly(a) signal sequence, and the M2 ORF. This unexpected transcript was solely localized to the nucleus, strongly suggesting that it is not translated and instead may function as a lncRNA. Use of an MHV68 mutant lacking two M3-04-antisense pre-miRNA stem loops resulted in highly increased expression of M3-04 and increased virus replication in the lungs of infected mice, demonstrating a key role for these RNAs in regulation of lytic infection. Together these findings suggest the possibility of a tripartite regulatory relationship between the lncRNA M3-04, antisense miRNAs, and the latency gene M2.