The human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) protein UL37 exon 1 (pUL37x1), also known as viral mitochondrion-localized inhibitor of apoptosis (vMIA), sequentially traffics from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) through mitochondrion-associated membranes (MAMs) to the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM), where it robustly inhibits apoptosis. Here, we report the association of pUL37x1/vMIA with internal lipid rafts (LRs) in the ER/MAM. The MAM, which serves as a site for lipid transfer and calcium signaling to mitochondria, is enriched in detergent-resistant membrane (DRM)-forming lipids, including cholesterol and ceramide, which are found in lower concentrations in the bulk ER. Sigma 1 receptor (Sig-1R), a MAM chaperone affecting calcium signaling to mitochondria, is anchored in the MAM by its LR association. Because of its trafficking through the MAM and partial colocalization with Sig-1R, we tested whether pUL37x1/vMIA associates with MAM LRs. Extraction with methyl-β-cyclodextrin (MβCD) removed pUL37x1/vMIA from lysed but not intact cells, indicating its association with internal LRs. Furthermore, the isolation of DRMs from purified intracellular organelles independently verified the localization of pUL37x1/vMIA within ER/MAM LRs. However, pUL37x1/vMIA was not detected in DRMs from mitochondria. pUL37x1/vMIA associated with LRs during all temporal phases of HCMV infection, indicating the likely importance of this location for HCMV growth. Although detected during its sequential trafficking to the OMM, the pUL37x1/vMIA LR association was independent of its mitochondrial targeting signals. Rather, it was dependent upon cholesterol binding. These studies suggest a conserved ability of UL37 proteins to interact with cholesterol and LRs, which is functionally distinguishable from their sequential trafficking to mitochondria
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