The cytomegalovirus M35 protein directly binds to the interferon-β enhancer and modulates transcription of (Ifnb1) and other IRF3-driven genes


  • H. Schwanke
  • V. Gonçalves Magalhães
  • S. Schmelz
  • E. Wyler
  • T. Hennig
  • T. Günther
  • A. Grundhoff
  • L. Dölken
  • M. Landthaler
  • M. van Ham
  • L. Jänsch
  • K. Büssow
  • J. van den Heuvel
  • W. Blankenfeldt
  • C.C. Friedel
  • F. Erhard
  • M.M. Brinkmann


  • Journal of Virology


  • J Virol 97 (6): e0040023


  • Induction of type I interferon (IFN) gene expression is among the first lines of cellular defense a virus encounters during primary infection. We previously identified the tegument protein M35 of murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) as an essential antagonist of this antiviral system, showing that M35 interferes with type I IFN induction downstream of pattern-recognition receptor (PRR) activation. Here, we report structural and mechanistic details of M35's function. Determination of M35's crystal structure combined with reverse genetics revealed that homodimerization is a key feature for M35's immunomodulatory activity. In electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSAs), purified M35 protein specifically bound to the regulatory DNA element that governs transcription of the first type I IFN gene induced in nonimmune cells, (Ifnb1). DNA-binding sites of M35 overlapped with the recognition elements of interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3), a key transcription factor activated by PRR signaling. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) showed reduced binding of IRF3 to the host (Ifnb1) promoter in the presence of M35. We furthermore defined the IRF3-dependent and the type I IFN signaling-responsive genes in murine fibroblasts by RNA sequencing of metabolically labeled transcripts (SLAM-seq) and assessed M35's global effect on gene expression. Stable expression of M35 broadly influenced the transcriptome in untreated cells and specifically downregulated basal expression of IRF3-dependent genes. During MCMV infection, M35 impaired expression of IRF3-responsive genes aside of (Ifnb1). Our results suggest that M35-DNA binding directly antagonizes gene induction mediated by IRF3 and impairs the antiviral response more broadly than formerly recognized. (IMPORTANCE) Replication of the ubiquitous human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) in healthy individuals mostly goes unnoticed but can impair fetal development or cause life-threatening symptoms in immunosuppressed or -deficient patients. Like other herpesviruses, CMV extensively manipulates its hosts and establishes lifelong latent infections. Murine CMV (MCMV) presents an important model system as it allows the study of CMV infection in the host organism. We previously showed that during entry into host cells, MCMV virions release the evolutionary conserved protein M35 protein to immediately dampen the antiviral type I interferon (IFN) response induced by pathogen detection. Here, we show that M35 dimers bind to regulatory DNA elements and interfere with recruitment of interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3), a key cellular factor for antiviral gene expression. Thereby, M35 interferes with expression of type I IFNs and other IRF3-dependent genes, reflecting the importance for herpesviruses to avoid IRF3-mediated gene induction.