Stress-inducible alternative translation initiation of human cytomegalovirus latency protein pUL138

Lora Grainger, Louis Cicchini, Michael Rak, Alex Petrucelli, Kerry D. Fitzgerald, Bert L. Semler, Felicia Goodrum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


We have previously characterized a 21-kDa protein encoded by UL138 (pUL138) as a viral factor inherent to low-passage strains of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) that is required for latent infection in vitro. pUL138 is encoded on 3.6-, 2.7-, and 1.4-kb 3′ coterminal transcripts that are produced during productive and latent infections. pUL138 is encoded at the 3′ end of each transcript and is preceded by an extensive 5′ sequence (∼0.5 to 2.5 kb) containing several putative open reading frames (ORFs). We determined that three putative ORFs upstream of UL138 (UL133, UL135, and UL136) encode proteins. The UL138 transcripts are polycistronic, such that each transcript expresses pUL138 in addition to the most-5′ ORF. The upstream coding sequences (CDS) present a significant challenge for the translation of pUL138 in mammalian cells. We hypothesized that sequences 5′ of UL138 mediate translation initiation of pUL138 by alternative strategies. Accordingly, a 663-nucloetide (nt) sequence overlapping the UL136 CDS supported expression of a downstream cistron in a bicistronic reporter system. We did not detect cryptic promoter activity or RNA splicing events that could account for downstream cistron expression. These data are consistent with the sequence element functioning as an internal ribosome entry site (IRES). Interestingly, pUL138 expression from the 3.6- and 2.7-kb transcripts was induced by serum stress, which concomitantly inhibited normal cap-dependent translation. Our work suggests that an alternative and stress-inducible strategy of translation initiation ensures expression of pUL138 under a variety of cellular contexts. The UL138 polycistronic transcripts serve to coordinate the expression of multiple proteins, including a viral determinant of HCMV latency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9472-9486
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Expression of multiple proteins
  • Including a viral determinant of hcmv latency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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