Human CMV encodes four unique short region proteins (US), US2, US3, US6, and US11, each independently sufficient for causing the down-regulation of MHC class I molecules on the cell surface. This down-regulation allows infected cells to evade recognition by cytotoxic T cells but leaves them susceptible to NK cells, which lyse cells that lack class I molecules. Another human CMV-encoded protein, unique long region protein 18 (UL18), is an MHC class I homolog that might provide a mechanism for inhibiting the NK cell response. The sequence similarities between MHC class I molecules and UL18 along with the ability of UL18 to form trimeric complexes with β2-microglobulin and peptides led to the hypothesis that if the US and UL18 gene products coexist temporally during infection, the US proteins might down-regulate UL18 molecules, similar to their action on MHC class I molecules. We show here that temporal expression of US and UL18 genes partially overlaps during infection. However, unlike MHC class I molecules, the MHC class I homolog, UL18, is fully resistant to the down-regulation associated with the US2, US3, US6, and US11 gene products. The specific effect of US proteins on MHC class I molecules, but not on UL18, represents another example of how viral proteins have evolved to evade immune surveillance, avoiding fratricide by specifically targeting host proteins.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Immunology and Allergy