Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) transcription can be arrested at the immediate early (IE) stage by continuous treatment of cells with inhibitors of protein synthesis, usually cycloheximide, from the time of infection. We have analysed the effect of cycloheximide on IE gene expression with HSV-1 mutants deficient in the production of functional levels of the three major transactivators, the virion protein (VP16) and two IE proteins (ICP0 and ICP4). Expression from the HSV-1 IE promoters that control synthesis of ICP0 and ICP27 was, unexpectedly, stimulated by inhibition of protein synthesis. The effect was observed for the ICP0 promoter in its normal genome location and also when cloned upstream of the Escherichia coli lacZ coding sequences and inserted into the viral thymidine kinase locus. Expression from the human cytomegalovirus major IE promoter, when cloned into the genome of HSV-1 mutants, was also increased by inhibition of protein synthesis. Cycloheximide did not affect the intracellular stability of lacZ-specific RNA, suggesting that the response represented an increase in mRNA production. Activation of the ICP0 promoter was observed when protein synthesis was blocked by alternative agents. Since inhibitors of protein synthesis are known to activate cellular signal transduction pathways, our findings demonstrate new mechanisms for the regulation of HSV-1 IE gene expression which may be important during latency and reactivation. The results also highlight previously unrecognized difficulties in analysing the intrinsic activities of promoters when cloned into the HSV-1 genome.


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