Bovine herpesvirus 1 (BHV-1) contains three major immediate-early (IE) genes involved in regulation of the productive cycle of replication. Two spliced IE RNAs, IER4.2 (4.2 kb) and IER2.9 (2.9 kb), are under the control of a single promoter; IER1.7 (1.7 kb) is transcribed from a different promoter in the opposite direction. Examining the kinetics of transcription, we found that the IER4.2/2.9 promoter was turned off at the end of the IE period. An alternative promoter became active, directing synthesis of an unspliced early RNA, ER2.6 (2.6 kb), which was colinear with the second exon of IER2.9 except for its 5' end in the intron about 10 bases upstream of the splice site. Sequence analysis revealed a single open reading frame common to IER2.9 and ER2.6 with a coding potential of 676 amino acids. The putative protein, named p135, contained a cysteine-rich zinc finger domain near the N terminus with homology to ICP0 of herpes simplex virus type 1, to protein 61 of varicella-zoster virus, to early protein 0 of pseudorabies virus, and to other viral and cellular proteins. The remaining parts of p135 exhibited only limited homology, mainly with pseudorabies virus protein 0, but the entire sequence was highly conserved between two strains of BHV-1 (K22 and Jura). The latency-related antisense transcript covered a large portion of ER2.6 excluding the zinc finger coding region. In transient expression assays, p135 activated a variety of promoters, including that for ER2.6, but repressed the IER1.7 promoter. Thus, p135 combines functional characteristics of ICP0, a strong transactivator, and of protein 61, a repressor. BHV-1 seems to have evolved a subtle mechanism to ensure the continued synthesis of p135 while turning off IER4.2, which encodes p180, the herpes simplex virus type 1 ICP4 homolog
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