Angiogenic Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) skin lesions found in both AIDS and non-AIDS patients are universally associated with infection by the presumed causative agent, known as KS-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) or human herpesvirus 8. KSHV genomes expressing latent state virus-encoded mRNAs and the LANA1 (latent nuclear antigen 1) protein are consistently present in spindle-like tumor cells that are thought to be of endothelial cell origin. Although the KSHV lytic cycle can be induced in rare latently infected primary effusion lymphoma (PEL) cell lines, the ability to transmit or assay infectious KSHV has so far eluded investigators. Here, we demonstrate that infection with supernatant virions derived from three different tetradecanoyl phorbol acetate-induced PEL cell lines can induce cultured primary human dermal microvascular endothelial cells (DMVEC) to form colonies of proliferating latently infected spindle-shaped cells, all of which express the KSHV-encoded LANA1 protein. Although their initial infectivity varied widely (JSC1 > > BC3 > BCP1), virions from all three cell lines produced distinctive spindle cell colonies and plaques without affecting the contact-inhibited cobblestone-like phenotype of adjacent uninfected DMVEC. Each infected culture could also be expanded into a completely spindloid persistently infected culture displaying aggregated swirls of spindle cells resembling those in KS lesions. Formation of new colonies and plaques was inhibited in the presence of phosphonoacetic acid or gangciclovir, but these antiherpesvirus agents had little effect on the propagation of already latently infected spindloid cultures. In persistently infected secondary cultures, patches of up to 10% of the spindloid cells constitutively expressed several early viral lytic cycle proteins, and 1 to 2% of the cells also formed typical herpesvirus DNA replication compartments, displayed cytopathic rounding effects, and expressed late viral antigens. We conclude that de novo KSHV infection induces a spindle cell conversion phenotype in primary DMVEC cultures that is directly associated with latent state expression of the LANA1 protein. However, these cultures also spontaneously reactivate to produce an unusual combination of both latent and productive but slow lytic cycle infection. The formation of spindle cell colonies and plaques in DMVEC cultures provides for the first time a quantitative assay for directly measuring the infectivity of KSHV virion preparations
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