Maintaining control over inflammatory processes represents a paradox for viral pathogens. Although many viruses induce host inflammatory responses to facilitate infection, control is necessary to avoid overactivation. One way is through the manipulation of proinflammatory chemokine levels, both host and viral. Murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV), a model betaherpesvirus, encodes a viral C-C chemokine, MCK2, which promotes host inflammatory responses and incorporates into virions to facilitate viral dissemination. Here, we show that the activity of M48, the conserved MCMV deubiquitinating enzyme (DUB), regulates MCK2 levels during infection. Inactivation of M48 DUB activity results in viral attenuation and exacerbates virally induced, MCK2-dependent inflammatory responses. M48 DUB activity also influences MCK2 incorporation into virions. Importantly, attenuation of DUB-mutant virus acute replication in vitro and in vivo is largely ameliorated by targeted deletion of MCK2. Thus, uncontrolled MCK2 levels appear to mediate DUB-mutant virus attenuation in specific tissues or cell types. This demonstrates that MCMV M48 DUB activity plays a previously unappreciated role in controlling MCK2 levels, thereby managing MCK2-dependent processes. These findings reveal a novel intrinsic control mechanism of virally induced inflammation and support the identification of betaherpesvirus DUBs as possible new targets for antiviral therapies. IMPORTANCE Human cytomegalovirus infections represent a tremendous burden not only to those afflicted but also to health care systems worldwide. As cytomegalovirus infections are a leading cause of nongenetic sensory loss and neurodevelopmental delay, it is imperative that valuable model systems exist in order that we might understand what viral factors contribute to replication and pathogenesis. Currently, the only approved drug treatments against CMV infection are nucleoside analogues, to which some strains have become resistant. Understanding unique viral enzymatic contributions to infections will allow the development of novel pharmacological therapies. Here, we show that M48, the conserved MCMV deubiquitinase, is critical for MCMV replication in mice and demonstrate that attenuation is due to deregulated production of a viral proinflammatory chemokine. The deubiquitinases of both human and murine CMV represent structurally unique DUBs and are therefore attractive targets for pharmacological intervention. Continued research into the substrates of these DUBs will lend additional insight into their potential as targets.
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