Reactivation of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) latent infection from early myeloid lineage cells constitutes a threat to immunocompromised or immune-suppressed individuals. Consequently, understanding the control of latency and reactivation to allow targeting and killing of latently infected cells could have far-reaching clinical benefits. US28 is one of the few viral genes that is expressed during latency and encodes a cell surface G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), which, during lytic infection, is a constitutive cell-signaling activator. Here we now show that in monocytes, which are recognized sites of HCMV latency in vivo, US28 attenuates multiple cell signaling pathways, including mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase and NF-κB, and that this is required to establish a latent infection; viruses deleted for US28 initiate a lytic infection in infected monocytes. We also show that these monocytes then become potent targets for the HCMV-specific host immune response and that latently infected cells treated with an inverse agonist of US28 also reactivate lytic infection and similarly become immune targets. Consequently, we suggest that the use of inhibitors of US28 could be a novel immunotherapeutic strategy to reactivate the latent viral reservoir, allowing it to be targeted by preexisting HCMV-specific T cells.IMPORTANCE Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a betaherpesvirus and a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among immunosuppressed individuals. HCMV can establish latent infection, where the viral genome is maintained in an infected cell, without production of infectious virus. A number of genes, including US28, are expressed by HCMV during latent infection. US28 has been shown to activate many cellular signaling pathways during lytic infection, promoting lytic gene expression and virus production. As such, the role of US28 remains unclear and seems at odds with latency. Here, we show that US28 has the opposite phenotype in cells that support latent infection-it attenuates cellular signaling, thereby maintaining latency. Inhibition of US28 with a small-molecule inhibitor causes HCMV latent infection to reactivate, allowing latently infected cells to be detected and killed by the immune system. This approach could be used to treat latent HCMV to clear it from human transplants.
- Journal Article