The pathogenesis of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) involves a cell-associated viremia during which infectious virus is carried from sites of respiratory mucosal inoculation to the skin. We now demonstrate that VZV infection of T cells is associated with robust virion production and modulation of the apoptosis and interferon pathways within these cells. The VZV serine/threonine protein kinase encoded by ORF66 is essential for the efficient replication of VZV in T cells. Preventing ORF66 protein expression by stop codon insertion (pOka66S) impaired the growth of the parent Oka (pOka) strain in T cells in SCID-hu T-cell xenografts in vivo and reduced formation of VZV virions. The lack of ORF66 protein also increased the susceptibility of infected T cells to apoptosis and reduced the capacity of the virus to interfere with induction of the interferon (IFN) signaling pathway following exposure to IFN-gamma. However, preventing ORF66 protein expression only slightly reduced growth in melanoma cells in culture and did not diminish virion formation in these cells. The pOka66S virus showed only a slight defect in growth in SCID-hu skin implants compared with intact pOka. These observations suggest that the ORF66 kinase plays a unique role during infection of T cells and supports VZV T-cell tropism by contributing to immune evasion and enhancing survival of infected T cells.
View details for DOI 10.1128/JVI.79.20.12921-12933.2005
View details for Web of Science ID 000232243200032
View details for PubMedID 16188994