Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is an emerging pathogen and is the causative infectious agent of Kaposi sarcoma and two malignancies of B cell origin. To date, there is no licensed KSHV vaccine. Development of an effective vaccine against KSHV continues to be limited by a poor understanding of how the virus initiates acute primary infection in vivo in diverse human cell types. The role of glycoprotein H (gH) in herpesvirus entry mechanisms remains largely unresolved. To characterize the requirement for KSHV gH in the viral life cycle and in determination of cell tropism, we generated and characterized a mutant KSHV in which expression of gH was abrogated. Using a bacterial artificial chromosome containing a complete recombinant KSHV genome and recombinant DNA technology, we inserted stop codons into the gH coding region. We used electron microscopy to reveal that the gH-null mutant virus assembled and exited from cells normally, compared to wild-type virus. Using purified virions, we assessed infectivity of the gH-null mutant in diverse mammalian cell types in vitro. Unlike wild-type virus or a gH-containing revertant, the gH-null mutant was unable to infect any of the epithelial, endothelial, or fibroblast cell types tested. However, its ability to infect B cells was equivocal, and remains to be investigated in vivo due to generally poor infectivity in vitro. Together, these results suggest that gH is critical for KSHV infection of highly permissive cell types including epithelial, endothelial, and fibroblasts.
All homologues of herpesvirus gH studied to date have been implicated in playing an essential role in viral infection of diverse permissive cell types. However, the role of gH in the mechanism of KSHV infection remains largely unresolved. In this study, we generated a gH-null mutant KSHV and provided evidence that deficiency of gH expression did not affect viral particle assembly or egress. Using the gH-null mutant, we showed that gH was indispensable for KSHV infection of epithelial, endothelial, and fibroblast cells in vitro. This suggests that gH is an important target for the development of a KSHV prophylactic vaccine to prevent initial viral infection.