Yurochko, Lee, Spohn, Frost, Cieply, Stevenson, Chan, Nogalski, Kim, Collins-McMillen
Human cytomegalovirus infects peripheral blood monocytes and triggers biological changes that promote viral dissemination and persistence. We have shown that HCMV induces a pro-inflammatory state in infected monocytes, resulting in enhanced monocyte motility and transendothelial migration, prolonged monocyte survival, and differentiation toward a long-lived M1-like macrophage phenotype. Our data indicate that HCMV triggers these changes, in the absence of de novo viral gene expression and replication, through engagement and activation of EGFR and integrins on the surface of monocytes. We previously identified that HCMV induces the upregulation of multiple pro-inflammatory gene ontologies, with the interferon-associated gene ontology exhibiting the highest percentage of upregulated genes. However, the function of the HCMV-induced ISGs in infected monocytes remained unclear. We now show that HCMV induces the enhanced expression and activation of a key ISG transcriptional regulator, STAT1, via an IFN-independent, but EGFR- and integrin-dependent signaling pathway. Furthermore, we identified a biphasic activation of STAT1 that likely promotes two distinct phases of STAT1-mediated transcriptional activity. Moreover, our data show that STAT1 is required for efficient early HCMV-induced enhanced monocyte motility and later for HCMV-induced monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation and for the regulation of macrophage polarization, suggesting that STAT1 may serve as a molecular convergence point linking the biological changes that occur at early and later times post infection. Taken together, our results suggest that HCMV re-routes the biphasic activation of a traditionally anti-viral gene product through an EGFR- and integrin-dependent pathway in order to help promote the pro-viral activation and polarization of infected monocytes.IMPORTANCE HCMV promotes multiple functional changes in infected monocytes that are required for viral spread and persistence, including their enhanced motility and differentiation/polarization towards a pro-inflammatory M1 macrophage. We now show that HCMV utilizes the traditionally IFN-associated gene product, STAT1, to promote these changes. Our data suggest that HCMV utilizes EGFR- and integrin-dependent (but IFN-independent) signaling pathways to induce STAT1 activation, which may allow the virus to specifically dictate the biological activity of STAT1 during infection. Our data indicate that HCMV utilizes two phases of STAT1 activation, which we argue molecularly links the biological changes that occur following initial binding to those that continue to occur days to weeks following infection. Furthermore, our findings may highlight a unique mechanism for how HCMV avoids the anti-viral response during infection by hijacking the function of a critical component of the IFN response pathway.