Productive infection of non-proliferating cells by cytomegalovirus (CMV) requires the coordinated stimulation of host biochemical pathways that prepare cells to synthesize DNA. Here we illustrate the ability of human CMV (HCMV) to stimulate cellular thymidylate synthase (TS) gene expression in quiescent human embryonic lung fibroblasts. TS mRNA and protein levels are nearly undetectable in quiescent cells, but are greatly increased following HCMV infection. Inhibition of TS activity was shown to impair HCMV DNA synthesis, demonstrating that TS upregulation is required for efficient HCMV replication in quiescent cells. The increase in TS gene expression was due to an increase in gene transcription, since the expression of a reporter gene driven by the human TS promoter was strongly induced by HCMV infection. Deletion analysis of the human TS promoter identified two positive elements that are important for this increased transcription. We have previously shown that murine CMV (MCMV) stimulates the mouse TS promoter by a mechanism that depends on the presence of an E2F element in the promoter region. However, deletion of the two potential E2F binding sites in the human TS promoter did not prevent the virus-induced increase in TS promoter activity. Our data suggest that HCMV activates human TS gene transcription by mechanisms that independent of E2F and different from those used by MCMV to stimulate the mouse TS promoter.
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