Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) encodes five immediate early (IE) genes of which at least three are involved in the transcriptional regulation of later classes of viral genes. Perhaps the most important of these regulatory proteins is Vmw175, a nuclear phosphoprotein of 1298 predicted amino acid residues. In the absence of functional Vmw175 the virus fails to activate early or late genes or to repress IE gene expression. All viruses of the sub-family alphaherpesvirinae encode polypeptides that are closely related to Vmw175. Mutational studies have shown that regions of homology within this family of gene regulators are generally of functional importance. One of the most striking conserved stretches of amino acid sequence is a run of serine residues followed by a highly acidic region in the amino-terminal fifth of the polypeptide. We have constructed an HSV-1 virus which lacks this serine-rich run within Vmw175. Surprisingly, the virus was viable in tissue culture cells and expressed apparently normal amounts of viral polypeptides. In plaque assays it was very slightly temperature-sensitive and, depending on the state of the host cells, could generate plaques with a syncytial morphology. The mutant protein was able to bind to DNA in a manner indistinguishable from that of the wild-type polypeptide. We conclude that despite its conservation in all of the alphaherpesvirinae so far sequenced, the serine-rich homology is not important for virus growth in tissue culture.


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