Watanabe T, Kimura H, Goshima F, Sato Y, Murata T, Masud HMAA, Yoshida M
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a member of human gammaherpesvirus, infects mainly B cells. EBV has two alternative life cycles, latent and lytic, and is reactivated occasionally from the latent stage to the lytic cycle. To combat EBV-associated disorders, understanding the molecular mechanisms of the EBV lytic replication cycle is also important. Here, we focused on an EBV lytic gene, BKRF4. Using our anti-BKRF4 antibody, we revealed that the BKRF4 gene product is expressed during the lytic cycle with late kinetics. To characterize the role of BKRF4, we constructed BKRF4-knockout mutants using the bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) and CRISPR/Cas9 systems. While disruption of the BKRF4 gene had almost no effect on viral protein expression and DNA synthesis, it significantly decreased progeny virion levels in HEK293 and Akata cells. Furthermore, we show that BKRF4 is involved not only in production of progeny virions but also in increasing the infectivity of the virus particles. Immunoprecipitation assays revealed that BKRF4 interacted with a virion protein, BGLF2. We showed that the C-terminal region of BKRF4 was critical for this interaction and for efficient progeny production. Immunofluorescence analysis revealed that BKRF4 partially colocalized with BGLF2 in the nucleus and perinuclear region. Finally, we showed that BKRF4 is a phosphorylated, possible tegument protein and that the EBV protein kinase BGLF4 may be important for this phosphorylation. Taken together, our data suggest that BKRF4 is involved in the production of infectious virions.IMPORTANCE While the latent genes of EBV have been studied extensively, the lytic genes are less well characterized. This study focused on one such lytic gene, BKRF4, which is conserved only among gammaherpesviruses (ORF45 of Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus or murine herpesvirus-68). After preparing the BKRF4 knockout virus using B95-8 EBV-BAC, we demonstrated that the BKRF4 gene was involved in infectious progeny particle production. Importantly, we successfully generated a BKRF4 knockout virus of Akata using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, confirming the phenotype in this separate strain. We further showed that BKRF4 interacted with another virion protein, BGLF2, and demonstrated the importance of this interaction in infectious virion production. These results shed light on the elusive process of EBV progeny maturation in the lytic cycle. Notably, this study describes a successful example of the generation and characterization of an EBV construct with a disrupted lytic gene using CRISPR/Cas9 technology.