The Akt Forkhead Box O Transcription Factor Axis Regulates Human Cytomegalovirus Replication

Hongbo Zhang, Anthony J. Domma, Felicia D. Goodrum, Nathaniel J. Moorman, Jeremy P. Kamil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The protein kinase Akt broadly impacts many cellular processes, including mRNA translation, metabolism, apoptosis, and stress responses. Inhibition of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K), a lipid kinase pivotal to Akt activation, triggers various herpesviruses to reactivate from latency. Hence, decreased Akt activity may promote lytic replication. Here, we show that Akt accumulates in an inactive form during human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection of permissive fibroblasts, as indicated by hypophosphorylation of sites that activate Akt, decreased phosphorylation of PRAS40, and pronounced nuclear localization of FoxO3a, a substrate that remains cytoplasmic when Akt is active. HCMV strongly activates mTORC1 during lytic infection, suggesting a potential mechanism for Akt inactivation, since mTORC1 negatively regulates PI3K. However, we were surprised to observe that constitutive Akt activity, provided by expression of Akt fused to a myristoylation signal (myr-Akt), caused a 1-log decrease in viral replication, accompanied by defects in viral DNA synthesis and late gene expression. These results indicated that Akt inactivation is required for efficient viral replication, prompting us to address which Akt substrates underpin this requirement. Interestingly, we found that short interfering RNA knockdown of FoxO3a, but not FoxO1, phenocopied the defects caused by myr-Akt, corroborating a role for FoxO3a. Accordingly, a chimeric FoxO3a-estrogen receptor fusion protein, in which nuclear localization is regulated by 4-hydroxytamoxifen instead of Akt, reversed the replication defects caused by myr-Akt. Collectively, our results reveal a role for FoxO transcription factors in HCMV lytic replication and argue that this single class of Akt substrates underpins the requirement for Akt inactivation during productive infection. IMPORTANCE Evidence from diverse herpesvirus infection models suggests that the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway suppresses reactivation from latency and that inactivation of the pathway stimulates viral lytic replication. Here, we show that Akt accumulates in an inactive state during HCMV infection of lytically permissive cells while the presence of constitutive Akt activity causes substantial viral replication defects. Although Akt phosphorylates a diverse array of cellular substrates, we identify an important role for the Forkhead box class O transcription factors. Our findings show that when FoxO3a nuclear localization is decoupled from its negative regulation by Akt, the viral replication defects observed in the presence of constitutively active Akt are reversed. Collectively, our results reveal that HCMV inactivates Akt to promote the nuclear localization of FoxO transcription factors, which strongly implies that FoxOs play critical roles in transactivating cellular and/or viral genes during infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • cytomegalovirus
  • herpesviruses
  • human herpesviruses
  • KEYWORDS AKT signaling
  • metabolism
  • protein kinases
  • stress response
  • transcription factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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