The immediate-early protein IE1 of human and mouse cytomegalovirus (MCMV) is one of the first proteins expressed during the productive infection cycle and upon reactivation from latency. The CMV IE1 proteins have been found to inhibit histone deacetylases, suggesting a role in the epigenetic regulation of viral gene expression. Consequently, the IE1 protein is considered to have a profound effect on reactivation, because small amounts of IE1 may be decisive for the switch to lytic replication. Here we asked if an MCMV Δie1 mutant is able both to establish latency and to reactivate from the lungs of latently infected mice. Since the Δie1 mutant was known to be attenuated during acute infection, we first defined conditions that led to comparable levels of viral genomes during latent infection with mutant and wild-type (wt) MCMV. Viral genome copy numbers dropped considerably at the onset of the latent infection but then remained steady for both viruses even after several months. Reactivation of the Δie1 mutant and of wt MCMV from latency occurred with similar incidences in lung explant cultures at 4, 7, and 12 months postinfection. The increase in the frequency of a subset of MCMV-specific memory T cells, a possible indicator of frequent transcriptional reactivation events during latency, was in a comparable range for both viruses. Recurrence of the Δie1 virus infection in vivo could also be induced by hematoablative treatment of latently infected mice. We conclude that the ie1 gene is not essential for the establishment of latency or for the reactivation of MCMV
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