Murine cytomegalovirus M25 proteins sequester the tumor suppressor protein p53 in nuclear accumulations


  • I. Kutle
  • K.M. Szymańska-de Wijs
  • B. Bogdanow
  • B. Cuvalo
  • L. Steinbrück
  • S. Jonjić
  • K. Wagner
  • R. Niedenthal
  • M. Selbach
  • L. Wiebusch
  • M. Dezeljin
  • M. Messerle


  • Journal of Virology


  • J Virol 94 (20): e00574-20


  • To ensure productive infection herpesviruses utilize tegument proteins and nonstructural regulatory proteins to counteract cellular defense mechanisms and to reprogram cellular pathways. The M25 proteins of mouse cytomegalovirus (MCMV) belong to the beta-herpesvirus UL25 gene family that encodes viral proteins implicated with regulatory functions. Through affinity purification and mass spectrometric analysis, we discovered the tumor suppressor protein p53 as a host factor interacting with the M25 proteins. M25-p53 interaction in infected and transfected cells was confirmed by co-immunoprecipitation. Moreover, the proteins co-localized in nuclear dot-like structures upon both infection and inducible expression of the two M25 isoforms. p53 accumulated in wildtype MCMV-infected cells, while this did not occur upon infection with a mutant lacking the M25 gene. Both M25 proteins were able to mediate the effect, identifying them as the first CMV proteins responsible for p53 accumulation during infection. Interaction with M25 proteins led to substantial prolongation of the half-life of p53. Contrary to the higher abundance of the p53 protein in wildtype MCMV-infected cells, the transcript levels of the prominent p53 target genes Cdkn1a and Mdm2 were diminished compared to cells infected with the ΔM25 mutant, and this was associated with reduced binding of p53 to responsive elements within the respective promoters. Notably, the productivity of the M25 deletion mutant was partially rescued on p53-negative fibroblasts. We propose that the MCMV M25 proteins sequester p53 molecules in the nucleus of infected cells, reducing their availability for activating a subset of p53-regulated genes, thereby dampening the antiviral role of p53. IMPORTANCE: Host cells use a number of factors to defend against viral infection. Viruses are, however, in an arms race with their host cells to overcome these defense mechanisms. The tumor suppressor protein p53 is an important sensor of cell stress induced by oncogenic insults or viral infections, which upon activation induces various pathways to ensure the integrity of cells. Viruses have to counteract many functions of p53, but complex DNA viruses such as cytomegaloviruses may also utilize some p53 functions for their own benefit. In this study, we discovered that the M25 proteins of mouse cytomegalovirus interact with p53 and mediate its accumulation during infection. Interaction with the M25 proteins sequesters p53 molecules in nuclear dot-like structures, limiting their availability for activation of a subset of p53-regulated target genes. Understanding the interaction between viral proteins and p53 may allow to develop new therapeutic strategies against cytomegalovirus and other viruses.