α-Herpesvirinae subfamily members, including herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and bovine herpes virus 1 (BHV-1), initiate infection in mucosal surfaces. BHV-1 and HSV-1 enter sensory neurons by cell-cell spread where a burst of viral gene expression occurs. When compared to non-neuronal cells, viral gene expression is quickly extinguished in sensory neurons resulting in neuronal survival and latency. The HSV-1 latency associated transcript (LAT), which is abundantly expressed in latently infected neurons, inhibits apoptosis, viral transcription, and productive infection, and directly or indirectly enhances reactivation from latency in small animal models. Three anti-apoptosis genes can be substituted for LAT, which will restore wild type levels of reactivation from latency to a LAT null mutant virus. Two small non-coding RNAs encoded by LAT possess anti-apoptosis functions in transfected cells. The BHV-1 latency related RNA (LR-RNA), like LAT, is abundantly expressed during latency. The LR-RNA encodes a protein (ORF2) and two microRNAs that are expressed in certain latently infected neurons. Wild-type expression of LR gene products is required for stress-induced reactivation from latency in cattle. ORF2 has anti-apoptosis functions and interacts with certain cellular transcription factors that stimulate viral transcription and productive infection. ORF2 is predicted to promote survival of infected neurons by inhibiting apoptosis and sequestering cellular transcription factors which stimulate productive infection. In addition, the LR encoded microRNAs inhibit viral transcription and apoptosis. In summary, the ability of BHV-1 and HSV-1 to interfere with apoptosis and productive infection in sensory neurons is crucial for the life-long latency-reactivation cycle in their respective hosts.
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