Identifying the Cellular Interactome of Epstein-Barr Virus Lytic Regulator Zta Reveals Cellular Targets Contributing to Viral Replication

Yaqi Zhou, Kate Heesom, Kay Osborn, Rajaei Almohammad, Steve M Sweet, Alison J Sinclair

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The human gammaherpesvirus Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) (human herpesvirus 4 [HHV4]) infects most adults and is an important contributor to the development of many types of lymphoid and epithelial cancers. Essential contributions of viral genes to viral replication are known, but the potential contributions of cell genes are less well delineated. A key player is the viral protein Zta (BZLF1, ZEBRA, or Z). This sequence-specific DNA-binding protein can disrupt EBV latency by driving the transcription of target genes and by interacting with the EBV lytic origin of replication. Here, we used an unbiased proteomics approach to identify the Zta-interactome in cells derived from Burkitt’s lymphoma. Isolating Zta and associated proteins from Burkitt’s lymphoma cells undergoing EBV replication, followed by tandem mass tag (TMT) mass spectrometry, resulted in the identification of 39 viral and cellular proteins within the Zta interactome. An association of Zta with the cellular protein NFATc2 was validated in independent experiments. Furthermore, the ability of Zta to attenuate the activity of an NFAT-dependent promoter was shown, which suggests a functional consequence for the association. The expression of Zta is itself regulated through NFAT activity, suggesting that Zta may contribute to a feedback loop that would limit its own expression, thus aiding viral replication by preventing the known toxic effects of Zta overexpression.

IMPORTANCE: Epstein-Barr virus infects most people across the world and causes several kinds of cancer. Zta is an important viral protein that makes the virus replicate by binding to its DNA and turning on the expression of some genes. We used a sensitive, unbiased approach to isolate and identify viral and cellular proteins that physically interact with Zta. This revealed 39 viral and cellular proteins. We found that one protein, termed NFATc2, was already known to be important for a very early step in viral replication. We identify that once this step has occurred, Zta reduces the effectiveness of NFATc2, and we suggest that this is important to prevent cells from dying before viral replication is complete and the mature virus is released from the cells.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Virology
Early online date17 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jan 2020


  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • proteomics
  • transcriptional regulation


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