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Open Access Research

Analysis of the human cytomegalovirus genomic region from UL146 through UL147A reveals sequence hypervariability, genotypic stability, and overlapping transcripts

Nell S Lurain1*, Andrea M Fox1, Heather M Lichy23, Sangeeta M Bhorade4, Carl F Ware5, Diana D Huang1, Sau-Ping Kwan1, Edward R Garrity3 and Sunwen Chou23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Immunology/Microbiology, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL, USA

2 Medical and Research Services, VA Medical Center, Portland, OR, USA

3 Division of Infectious Diseases, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, USA

4 Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, IL, USA

5 Division of Molecular Immunology, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, San Diego, CA, USA

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Virology Journal 2006, 3:4  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-3-4

Published: 12 January 2006

Abstract

Background

Although the sequence of the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) genome is generally conserved among unrelated clinical strains, some open reading frames (ORFs) are highly variable. UL146 and UL147, which encode CXC chemokine homologues are among these variable ORFs.

Results

The region of the HCMV genome from UL146 through UL147A was analyzed in clinical strains for sequence variability, genotypic stability, and transcriptional expression. The UL146 sequences in clinical strains from two geographically distant sites were assigned to 12 sequence groups that differ by over 60% at the amino acid level. The same groups were generated by sequences from the UL146-UL147 intergenic region and the UL147 ORF. In contrast to the high level of sequence variability among unrelated clinical strains, the sequences of UL146 through UL147A from isolates of the same strain were highly stable after repeated passage both in vitro and in vivo. Riboprobes homologous to these ORFs detected multiple overlapping transcripts differing in temporal expression. UL146 sequences are present only on the largest transcript, which also contains all of the downstream ORFs including UL148 and UL132. The sizes and hybridization patterns of the transcripts are consistent with a common 3'-terminus downstream of the UL132 ORF. Early-late expression of the transcripts associated with UL146 and UL147 is compatible with the potential role of CXC chemokines in pathogenesis associated with viral replication.

Conclusion

Clinical isolates from two different geographic sites cluster in the same groups based on the hypervariability of the UL146, UL147, or the intergenic sequences, which provides strong evidence for linkage and no evidence for interstrain recombination within this region. The sequence of individual strains was absolutely stable in vitro and in vivo, which indicates that sequence drift is not a mechanism for the observed sequence hypervariability. There is also no evidence of transcriptional splicing, although multiple overlapping transcripts extending into the adjacent UL148 and UL132 open reading frames were detected using gene-specific probes.