Alternative promoters drive human cytomegalovirus reactivation from latency.

Collins-McMillen D, Rak M, Buehler JC, Igarashi-Hayes S, Kamil JP, Moorman NJ, Goodrum F. 2019. Alternative promoters drive human cytomegalovirus reactivation from latency. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 116:17492–17497. doi:10.1073/pnas.1900783116.

Reactivation from latency requires reinitiation of viral gene expression and culminates in the production of infectious progeny. The major immediate early promoter (MIEP) of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) drives the expression of crucial lytic cycle transactivators but is silenced during latency in hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs). Because the MIEP has poor activity in HPCs, it is unclear how viral transactivators are expressed during reactivation. It has been presumed that viral gene expression is reinitiated via de-repression of the MIEP. We demonstrate that immediate early transcripts arising from reactivation originate predominantly from alternative promoters within the canonical major immediate early locus. Disruption of these intronic promoters results in striking defects in re-expression of viral genes and viral genome replication in the THP-1 latency model. Furthermore, we show that these promoters are necessary for efficient reactivation in primary CD34 HPCs. Our findings shift the paradigm for HCMV reactivation by demonstrating that promoter switching governs reactivation from viral latency in a context-specific manner.