APOBECs and herpesviruses

Adam Z. Cheng, Sofia N. Moraes, Nadine M. Shaban, Elisa Fanunza, Craig J. Bierle, Peter J. Southern, Wade A. Bresnahan, Stephen A. Rice, Reuben S. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The APOBEC family of DNA cytosine deaminases provides a broad and overlapping defense against viral infections. Successful viral pathogens, by definition, have evolved strategies to escape restriction by the APOBEC enzymes of their hosts. HIV-1 and related retroviruses are thought to be the predominant natural substrates of APOBEC enzymes due to obligate single-stranded DNA replication intermediates, abundant evidence for cDNA strand C-to-U editing (genomic strand G-to-A hypermutation), and a potent APOBEC degradation mechanism. In contrast, much lower mutation rates are observed in double-stranded DNA herpesviruses and the evidence for APOBEC mutation has been less compelling. However, recent work has revealed that Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), Kaposi's sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV), and herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) are potential substrates for cellular APOBEC enzymes. To prevent APOBEC-mediated restriction these viruses have repurposed their ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) large subunits to directly bind, inhibit, and relocalize at least two distinct APOBEC enzymes - APOBEC3B and APOBEC3A. The importance of this interaction is evidenced by genetic inactivation of the EBV RNR (BORF2), which results in lower viral infectivity and higher levels of C/G-to-T/A hypermutation. This RNR-mediated mechanism therefore likely functions to protect lytic phase viral DNA replication intermediates from APOBEC-catalyzed DNA C-to-U deamination. The RNR-APOBEC interaction defines a new host-pathogen conflict that the virus must win in real-time for transmission and pathogenesis. However, partial losses over evolutionary time may also benefit the virus by providing mutational fuel for adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number390
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 28 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: Work in the laboratory of R.S.H. is supported by NIAID R37 AI064046 and NCI P01 CA234228. A.Z.C. received salary support from NIGMS T32 GM008244 and NCI F30 CA200432. S.N.M. received salary support from NIAID T32-AI083196. N.M.S. received salary support from NIAID R56 AI150402. R.S.H. is the Margaret Harvey Schering Land Grant Chair for Cancer Research, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor, and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • DNA cytosine deamination
  • DNA editing
  • Evolution
  • Herpesvirus
  • Innate antiviral immunity
  • Mutation
  • Restriction factors
  • Ribonucleotide reductase
  • APOBEC Deaminases/genetics
  • Humans
  • DNA, Viral/genetics
  • Herpesviridae Infections/genetics
  • DNA Replication/genetics
  • Virus Replication/genetics
  • Animals
  • DNA Viruses/genetics
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions/genetics
  • Herpesviridae/genetics

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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