Antagonism of the protein kinase R pathway in human cells by rhesus cytomegalovirus

Stephanie J. Child, Sarah E. Hickson, Avraham Bayer, Daniel Malouli, Klaus Früh, Adam P. Geballe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


While cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections are often limited in host range by lengthycoevolution with a single host species, a few CMVs are known to deviate from this rule. For example, rhesus macaque CMV (RhCMV), a model for human CMV (HCMV) pathogenesis and vaccine development, can replicate in human cells, as well as in rhesus cells. Both HCMV and RhCMV encode species-specific antagonists of the broadly acting host cell restriction factor protein kinase R (PKR). Although the Rh- CMV antagonist of PKR, rTRS1, has very limited activity against human PKR, here, we show it is essential for RhCMV replication in human cells because it prevents human PKR from phosphorylating the translation initiation factor eIF2α, thereby allowing continued translation and viral replication. Although rTRS1 is necessary for RhCMV replication, it is not sufficient to rescue replication of HCMV lacking its own PKR antagonists in human fibroblasts. However, overexpression of rTRS1 in human fibroblasts enabled HCMV expressing rTRS1 to replicate, indicating that elevated levels or early expression of a weak antagonist can counteract a resistant restriction factor like human PKR. Exploring potential mechanisms that might allow RhCMV to replicate in human cells revealed that RhCMV makes no less double-stranded RNA than HCMV. Rather, in human cells, RhCMV expresses rTRS1 at levels 2 to 3 times higher than those of the HCMV-encoded PKR antagonists during HCMV infection. These data suggest that even a modest increase in expression of this weak PKR antagonist is sufficient to enable RhCMV replication in human cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01793-17
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Cytomegaloviruses
  • Evolution
  • Protein kinase R
  • Species specificity
  • dsRNA
  • eIF2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


Dive into the research topics of 'Antagonism of the protein kinase R pathway in human cells by rhesus cytomegalovirus'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this