Sara A. Dochnal, Abigail L. Whitford, Alison K. Francois, Patryk A. Krakowiak, Sean Cuddy, Anna R. Cliffe

c-Jun signaling during initial HSV-1 infection modulates latency to enhance later reactivation in addition to directly promoting the progression to full reactivation

  • Virology
  • Insect Science
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology

ABSTRACT Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) establishes a latent infection in peripheral neurons and periodically reactivates to permit transmission, which can result in clinical manifestations. Viral transactivators required for lytic infection are largely absent during latent infection, and therefore, HSV-1 relies on the co-option of neuronal host signaling pathways to initiate its gene expression. The activation of the neuronal c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) cell stress pathway is central to initiating biphasic reactivation in response to multiple stimuli. However, how host factors work with JNK to stimulate the initial wave of gene expression (known as Phase I) or the progression to full Phase II reactivation remains unclear. Here, we found that c-Jun, the primary target downstream of neuronal JNK cell stress signaling, functions during reactivation but not during the JNK-mediated initiation of Phase I gene expression. Instead, c-Jun was required to transition from Phase I to full HSV-1 reactivation and was detected in viral replication compartments of reactivating neurons. Interestingly, we also identified a role for both c-Jun and enhanced neuronal stress during initial neuronal infection in promoting a more reactivation-competent form of HSV-1 latency. Therefore, c-Jun functions at multiple stages during the HSV latent infection of neurons to promote reactivation but not during the initial JNK-dependent Phase I. Importantly, by demonstrating that initial infection conditions can contribute to later reactivation abilities, this study highlights the potential for latently infected neurons to maintain a molecular scar of previous exposure to neuronal stressors. IMPORTANCE The molecular mechanisms that regulate the reactivation of herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) from latent infection are unknown. The host transcription and pioneer factor c-Jun is the main target of the JNK cell stress pathway that is known to be important in exit of HSV from latency. Surprisingly, we found that c-Jun does not act with JNK during exit from latency but instead promotes the transition to full reactivation. Moreover, c-Jun and enhanced neuronal stress during initial neuronal infection promoted a more reactivation-competent form of HSV-1 latency. c-Jun, therefore, functions at multiple stages during HSV-1 latent infection of neurons to promote reactivation. Importantly, this study contributes to a growing body of evidence that de novo HSV-1 infection conditions can modulate latent infection and impact future reactivation events, raising important questions on the clinical impact of stress during initial HSV-1 acquisition on future reactivation events and consequences.

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