Activation of the interferon response by human cytomegalovirus occurs via cytoplasmic double-stranded DNA but not glycoprotein B

Victor R. DeFilippis, Tina Sali, David Alvarado, Laura White, Wade Bresnahan, Klaus J. Früh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


In vitro infection of cells with the betaherpesvirus human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) stimulates an innate immune response characterized by phosphorylation of the transcription factor interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3) and subsequent expression of IRF3-dependent genes. While previous work suggests that HCMV envelope glycoprotein B is responsible for initiating this reaction, the signaling pathways stimulated by virus infection that lead to IRF3 phosphorylation have largely been uncharacterized. Recently, we identified Z DNA binding protein 1 (ZBP1), a sensor of cytoplasmic DNA, as an essential protein for this response. We now describe a human fibroblast cell line exhibiting a recessive defect that results in the absence of activation of IRF3 following treatment with HCMV but not Sendai virus or double-stranded RNA. In addition, we show that while exposure of these cells to soluble HCMV glycoprotein B is capable of triggering IRF3-dependent gene transcription, transfection of the cells with double-stranded DNA is not. Furthermore, we show that over-expression of ZBP1 in these cells reestablishes their ability to secrete interferon in response to HCMV and that multiple ZBP1 transcriptional variants exist in both wild-type and mutant cells. These results have two major implications for the understanding of innate immune stimulation by HCMV. First, they demonstrate that HCMV glycoprotein B is not the essential molecular pattern that induces an IRF3-dependent innate immune response. Second, IRF3-terminal signaling triggered by HCMV particles closely resembles that which is activated by cytoplasmic double-stranded DNA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8913-8925
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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