Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a paradigm for mechanisms subverting antigen presentation by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. Due to its limited host range, HCMV cannot be studied in animals. Thus, the in vivo importance of inhibiting antigen presentation for the establishment and maintenance of infection with HCMV is unknown. Rhesus cytomegalovirus (RhCMV) is an emerging animal model that shares many of the features of HCMV infection. The recent completion of the genomic sequence of RhCMV revealed a significant degree of homology to HCMV. Strikingly, RhCMV contains several genes with low homology to the HCMV US6 gene family of inhibitors of the MHC I antigen presentation pathway. Here, we examine whether the RhCMV US6 homologues (open reading frames Rh182, -184, -185, -186, -187, and -189) interfere with the MHC I antigen-processing pathway. We demonstrate that Rh182 and Rh189 function similarly to HCMV US2 and US11, respectively, mediating the proteasomal degradation of newly synthesized MHC I. The US3 homologue, Rh184, delayed MHC I maturation. Unlike US3, MHC I molecules eventually escaped retention by Rh184, so that steady-state surface levels of MHC I remained unchanged. Rh185 acted similarly to US6 and inhibited peptide transport by TAP and, consequently, peptide loading of MHC I molecules. Thus, despite relatively low sequence conservation, US6 family-related genes in RhCMV are functionally closely related to the conserved structural features of HCMV immunomodulators. The conservation of these mechanisms implies their importance for immune evasion in vivo, a question that can now be addressed experimentally.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science