Epstein-Barr virus inactivates the transcriptome and disrupts the chromatin architecture of its host cell in the first phase of lytic reactivation

Buschle, A., Mrozek-Gorska, P., Cernilogar, F. M., Ettinger, A., Pich, D., Krebs, S., Mocanu, B., Blum, H., Schotta, G., Straub, T., and Hammerschmidt, W. (2021). Nucleic Acids Res 49, 3217-3241. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkab099


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a herpes virus also termed HHV 4 and the first identified human tumor virus, establishes a stable, long-term latent infection in human B cells, its preferred host. Upon induction of EBV's lytic phase, the latently infected cells turn into a virus factory, a process that is governed by EBV. In the lytic, productive phase, all herpes viruses ensure the efficient induction of all lytic viral genes to produce progeny, but certain of these genes also repress the ensuing antiviral responses of the virally infected host cells, regulate their apoptotic death or control the cellular transcriptome. We now find that EBV causes previously unknown massive and global alterations in the chromatin of its host cell upon induction of the viral lytic phase and prior to the onset of viral DNA replication. The viral initiator protein of the lytic cycle, BZLF1, binds to >105 binding sites with different sequence motifs in cellular chromatin in a concentration dependent manner implementing a binary molar switch probably to prevent noise-induced erroneous induction of EBV's lytic phase. Concomitant with DNA binding of BZLF1, silent chromatin opens locally as shown by ATAC-seq experiments, while previously wide-open cellular chromatin becomes inaccessible on a global scale within hours. While viral transcripts increase drastically, the induction of the lytic phase results in a massive reduction of cellular transcripts and a loss of chromatin-chromatin interactions of cellular promoters with their distal regulatory elements as shown in Capture-C experiments. Our data document that EBV's lytic cycle induces discrete early processes that disrupt the architecture of host cellular chromatin and repress the cellular epigenome and transcriptome likely supporting the efficient de novo synthesis of this herpes virus.