Two herpesviral noncoding PAN RNAs are functionally homologous but do not associate with common chromatin loci

by Johanna B. Withers, Eric S. Li, Tenaya K. Vallery, Therese A. Yario, Joan A. Steitz

During lytic replication of Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), a nuclear viral long noncoding RNA known as PAN RNA becomes the most abundant polyadenylated transcript in the cell. Knockout or knockdown of KSHV PAN RNA results in loss of late lytic viral gene expression and, consequently, reduction of progeny virion release from the cell. Here, we demonstrate that knockdown of PAN RNA from the related Rhesus macaque rhadinovirus (RRV) phenocopies that of KSHV PAN RNA. These two PAN RNA homologs, although lacking significant nucleotide sequence conservation, can functionally substitute for each other to rescue phenotypes associated with the absence of PAN RNA expression. Because PAN RNA is exclusively nuclear, previous studies suggested that it directly interacts with host and viral chromatin to modulate gene expression. We studied KSHV and RRV PAN RNA homologs using capture hybridization analysis of RNA targets (CHART) and observed their associations with host chromatin, but the loci differ between PAN RNA homologs. Accordingly, we find that KSHV PAN RNA is undetectable in chromatin following cell fractionation. Thus, modulation of gene expression at specific chromatin loci appears not to be the primary, nor the pertinent function of this viral long noncoding RNA. PAN RNA represents a cautionary tale for the investigation of RNA association with chromatin whereby cross-linking of DNA spatially adjacent to an abundant nuclear RNA gives the appearance of specific interactions. Similarly, PAN RNA expression does not affect viral transcription factor complex expression or activity, which is required for generation of the late lytic viral mRNAs. Rather, we provide evidence for an alternative model of PAN RNA function whereby knockdown of KSHV or RRV PAN RNA results in compromised nuclear mRNA export thereby reducing the cytoplasmic levels of viral mRNAs available for production of late lytic viral protein.

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