Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) evades host defenses through tight suppression of autophagy by targeting each step of its signal transduction: by viral Bcl-2 (vBcl-2) in vesicle nucleation, by viral FLIP (vFLIP) in vesicle elongation, and by K7 in vesicle maturation. By exploring the roles of KSHV autophagy-modulating genes, we found, surprisingly, that vBcl-2 is essential for KSHV lytic replication, whereas vFLIP and K7 are dispensable. Knocking out vBcl-2 from the KSHV genome resulted in decreased lytic gene expression at the mRNA and protein levels, a lower viral DNA copy number, and, consequently, a dramatic reduction in the amount of progeny infectious viruses, as also described in the accompanying article (A. Gelgor, I. Kalt, S. Bergson, K. F. Brulois, J. U. Jung, and R. Sarid, J Virol 89: 5298-5307, 2015). More importantly, the antiapoptotic and antiautophagic functions of vBcl-2 were not required for KSHV lytic replication. Using a comprehensive mutagenesis analysis, we identified that glutamic acid 14 (E-14) of vBcl-2 is critical for KSHV lytic replication. Mutating E-14 to alanine totally blocked KSHV lytic replication but showed little or no effect on the antiapoptotic and antiautophagic functions of vBcl-2. Our study indicates that vBcl-2 harbors at least three important and genetically separable functions to modulate both cellular signaling and the virus life cycle.
The present study shows for the first time that vBcl-2 is essential for KSHV lytic replication. Removal of the vBcl-2 gene results in a lower level of KSHV lytic gene expression, impaired viral DNA replication, and consequently, a dramatic reduction in the level of progeny production. More importantly, the role of vBcl-2 in KSHV lytic replication is genetically separated from its antiapoptotic and antiautophagic functions, suggesting that the KSHV Bcl-2 carries a novel function in viral lytic replication.