The DNA sequences of genomes from G + C-rich and A + T-rich lymphotropic herpesviruses [i.e. gammaherpesviruses; Epstein-Barr virus and herpesvirus saimiri (HVS)] are deficient in CpG dinucleotides and contain an excess of TpG and CpA dinucleotides relative to frequencies predicted from their mononucleotide compositions. In contrast, for sequences from genomes of G + C-rich and A + T-rich neurotropic herpesviruses (i.e. alphaherpesviruses; herpes simplex virus and varicella-zoster virus) and human cytomegalovirus (HCMV; a betaherpesvirus) the mean observed frequencies of these dinucleotides are close to those expected from their mononucleotide compositions. Comparisons between DNA sequences that encode proteins conserved in all these viruses also show that sequences of these lymphotropic viruses are CpG-deficient whereas the homologous genes from the neurotropic viruses and the HCMV are not. Analyses of local variations in dinucleotide frequencies reveal some occurrences of clustered CpG dinucleotides in generally deficient genomes (e.g. upstream of the thymidylate synthase gene of HVS) and locally CpG-deficient regions within some generally non-deficient genomes (e.g. the major immediate early genes of human, simian and murine CMVs). A relative deficiency in CpG and an excess of TpG and CpA dinucleotides is a diagnostic feature of higher eukaryotic DNA sequences that have been subjected to methylation of cytosine residues in CpG doublets with the resulting increase in mutations to give TpG (and thereby its complement, CpA). The available evidence implicates the latent genome as the site of methylation of these herpesviruses. We conclude that in the neurotropic herpesviruses the normal latent precursors to infectious progeny are not methylated whereas there is local methylation of the immediate early locus in the latent genomes of CMVs, and the latent genomes of these lymphotropic herpesviruses are extensively methylated.

Keyword(s): episomes , herpesvirus and methylation

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