Northern hybridizations were carried out using mRNA preparations of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV)-infected cultures and gene-specific antisense RNA probes for transcriptional analysis of the gene cluster composed of genes for DNA polymerase, glycoprotein B (gB), herpes simplex virus-infected cell protein 18.5 homologue p130 and a major DNA-binding protein corresponding to open reading frames (ORFs) UL54-UL57, respectively. Monocistronic transcripts of 5 kb and 3.7 kb were found for ORFs UL54 and UL55, respectively, and five additional high molecular mass overlapping transcripts of 14 kb, 10 kb, 10 kb, 8 kb and 6 kb were found. Mapping of 5' ends showed that transcription was initiated at the expected distance downstream of predicted TATA elements; in the case of a UL56-specific transcript two potential initiation sites were identified. Transcription was found to terminate at the expected distance downstream of either of two prominent polyadenylation consensus motifs in the region of UL54. All transcripts were identified early in the infectious cycle, except for the UL55 (gB)-specific transcript of 3.7 kb which was not synthesized until late post-infection. However, specific immunoreactions demonstrated the presence of a gB-specific polypeptide early after infection in the absence of viral DNA synthesis. It is suggested that a bicistronic transcript of 8 kb encoded by ORFs UL55 and UL54 is involved in biosynthesis of early HCMV gB.


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