Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) encodes a novel enzyme activity, the alkaline nuclease, whose precise role in the viral replication cycle remains obscure. The alkaline nuclease gene corresponds to the UL12 open reading frame, which is predicted to encode a protein of 626 amino acid residues. We describe the isolation and characterization of a null mutant of the gene for the viral alkaline nuclease in which 917 bp from the N-terminal half of the gene (corresponding to residues 70 to 375) were deleted and replaced by the insertional mutagen ICP6::Z. The resulting mutant virus, AN-1, was propagated in helper cells (S22) which express the wild-type version of the alkaline nuclease gene. Mutant AN-1 growth in Vero cells is severely restricted, although small amounts of infectious virus are produced. On the other hand, wild-type levels of viral DNA and late viral proteins are expressed in virus AN-1-infected Vero cells. These results indicate that the HSV-1 alkaline nuclease gene product is not essential for viral DNA synthesis but may play a role in the processing or packaging of viral DNA into infectious virions. Possible roles in the viral infectious cycle will be discussed.


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