The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) UL41 gene product, virion host shutoff (vhs), has homologs among five alphaherpesviruses (HSV-1, HSV-2, pseudorabies virus, varicella-zoster virus, and equine herpesvirus 1), suggesting a role for this protein in neurotropism. A mutant virus, termed UL41NHB, which carries a nonsense linker in the UL41 open reading frame at amino acid position 238 was generated. UL41NHB and a marker-rescued virus, UL41NHB-R, were characterized in vitro and tested for their ability to replicate in vitro and in vivo and to establish and reactivate from latency in a mouse eye model. As demonstrated by Western blotting (immunoblotting) and Northern (RNA) blotting procedures, UL41NHB encodes an appropriately truncated vhs protein and, as expected for a vhs null mutant, fails to induce the degradation of cellular glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase mRNA. The growth of UL41NHB was not significantly altered in one-step growth curves in Vero or mouse C3H/10T1/2 cells but was impaired in corneas, in trigeminal ganglia, and in brains of mice compared with the growth of KOS and UL41NHB-R. As a measure of establishment of latency, quantitative DNA PCR showed that the amount of viral DNA within trigeminal ganglia latently infected with UL41NHB was reduced by approximately 30-fold compared with that in KOS-infected ganglia and by 50-fold compared with that in UL41NHB-R-infected ganglia. Explant cocultivation studies revealed a low reactivation frequency for UL41NHB (1 of 28 ganglia, or 4%) compared with that for KOS (56 of 76, or 74%) or UL41NHB-R (13 of 20 or 65%). Taken together, these results demonstrate that vhs represents a determinant of viral pathogenesis
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