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Inherited chromosomally integrated human herpesvirus 6 genomes are ancient, intact and potentially able to reactivate from telomeres

By Enjie Zhang, Adam J Bell, Gavin S Wilkie, Nicolás M. Suárez, Chiara Batini, Colin D Veal, Isaac Armendáriz-Castillo, Rita Neumann, Victoria E Cotton, Yan Huang, David J. Porteous, Ruth F Jarrett, Andrew J. Davison, Nicola J Royle

Posted 20 Jul 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/166041 (published DOI: 10.1128/JVI.01137-17)

Human herpesviruses 6A and 6B (HHV6-A and HHV-6B; species Human herpesvirus 6A and Human herpesvirus 6B) have the capacity to integrate into telomeres, the essential capping structures of chromosomes that play roles in cancer and ageing. About 1% of people worldwide are carriers of chromosomally integrated HHV-6 (ciHHV-6), which is inherited as a genetic trait. Understanding the consequences of integration for the evolution of the viral genome, for the telomere and for the risk of disease associated with carrier status is hampered by a lack of knowledge about ciHHV-6 genomes. Here, we report an analysis of 28 ciHHV-6 genomes and show that they are significantly divergent from the few modern non-integrated HHV-6 strains for which complete sequences are currently available. In addition ciHHV-6B genomes in Europeans are more closely related to each other than to ciHHV-6B genomes from China and Pakistan, suggesting regional variation of the trait. Remarkably, at least one group of European ciHHV-6B carriers has inherited the same ciHHV-6B genome, integrated in the same telomere allele, from a common ancestor estimated to have existed 24,500 +/-10,600 years ago. Despite the antiquity of some, and possibly most, germline HHV-6 integrations, the majority of ciHHV-6B (95%) and ciHHV-6A (72%) genomes contain a full set of intact viral genes and therefore appear to have the capacity for viral gene expression and full reactivation.

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