We report the discovery of a novel gene in the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) genome, designated open reading frame (ORF) S/L. This gene, located at the left end of the prototype VZV genome isomer, expresses a polyadenylated mRNA containing a splice within the 3′ untranslated region in virus-infected cells. Sequence analysis reveals significant differences between the ORF S/Ls of wild-type and attenuated strains of VZV. Antisera raised to a bacterially expressed portion of ORF S/L reacted specifically with a 21-kDa protein synthesized in cells infected with a VZV clinical isolate and with the original vaccine strain of VZV (Oka-ATCC). Cells infected with other VZV strains, including a wild-type strain that has been extensively passaged in tissue culture and commercially produced vaccine strains of Oka, synthesize a family of proteins ranging in size from 21 to 30 kDa that react with the anti-ORF S/L antiserum. MeWO cells infected with recombinant VZV harboring mutations in the C-terminal region of the ORF S/L gene lost adherence to the stratum and adjacent cells, resulting in an altered plaque morphology. Immunohistochemical analysis of VZV-infected cells demonstrated that ORF S/L protein localizes to the cytoplasm. ORF S/L protein was present in skin lesions of individuals with primary or reactivated infection and in the neurons of a dorsal root ganglion during virus reactivation
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