Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV) small noncoding rnas antisense to the VZV latency-encoded transcript VLT enhance viral replication

Punam Bisht, Biswajit Das, Paul R. Kinchington, Ronald S. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Small noncoding RNAs (sncRNA), including microRNA (miR), are expressed by many viruses to provide an additional layer of gene expression regulation. Our work has shown that varicella-zoster virus (VZV; also called human herpesvirus 3 [HHV3]), the human alphaherpesvirus causing varicella and herpes zoster, expresses 24 virally encoded sncRNA (VZVsncRNA) in infected cells. Here, we demonstrate that several VZVsncRNA can modulate VZV growth, including four VZVsncRNA (VZVsncRNA10, -11, -12, and -13) that are antisense to VLT, a transcript made in lytic infections and associated with VZV latency. The influence on productive VZV growth and spread was assessed in epithelial cells transfected with locked nucleotide analog antagonists (LNAA). LNAA to the four VZVsncRNA antisense to VLT significantly reduced viral spread and progeny titers of infectious virus, suggesting that these sncRNA promoted lytic infection. The LNAA to VZVsncRNA12, encoded in the leader to ORF61, also significantly increased the levels of VLT transcripts. Conversely, overexpression of VZVsncRNA13 using adeno-associated virus consistently increased VZV spread and progeny titers. These results suggest that sncRNA antisense to VZV may regulate VZV growth, possibly by affecting VLT expression. Transfection of LNAA to VZVsncRNA14 and VZVsncRNA9 decreased and increased VZV growth, respectively, while LNAA to three other VZVsncRNA had no significant effects on replication. These data strongly support the conclusion that VZV replication is modulated by multiple virally encoded sncRNA, revealing an additional layer of complexity of VZV regulation of lytic infections. This may inform the development of novel anti-sncRNA-based therapies for treatment of VZV diseases. IMPORTANCE Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes herpes zoster, a major health issue in the aging and immunocompromised populations. Small noncoding RNAs (sncRNA) are recognized as important actors in modulating gene expression. This study extends our previous work and shows that four VZVsncRNA clustering in and near ORF61 and antisense to the latency-associated transcript of VZV can positively influence productive VZV infection. The ability of multiple exogenous small oligonucleotides targeting VZVsncRNA to inhibit VZV replication strengthens the possibility that they may inform development of novel treatments for painful herpes zoster.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00123-20
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number13
StatePublished - 16 Jun 2020

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© 2020 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.


  • Herpes zoster
  • Noncoding RNA
  • Varicella-zoster virus


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