FUNCTIONAL CHARACTERIZATION OF THE VIRAL FLICE INHIBITORY PROTEIN OF RHESUS MONKEY RHADINOVIRUS
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Rhesus monkey rhadinovirus (RRV) is a gamma-2 herpesvirus closely related to Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV). KSHV is associated with several malignant diseases, including Kaposi's sarcoma, primary effusion lymphoma and multicentric Castleman's disease. Here we found that RRV viral FLICE inhibitory protein (vFLIP) inhibits apoptosis. In HeLa cells with vFLIP expression, cleavage of poly [ADP-ribose] polymerase 1 (PARP-1) and activities of caspase 3, 7, and 9 were much lower than controls. RRV vFLIP was able to enhance cell survival under starved condition or apoptosis induction. After apoptosis induction, autophagosome formation was enhanced in cells with vFLIP expression and when autophagy was inhibited, these cells underwent apoptosis. Moreover, RRV latent infection of BJAB B-lymphoblastoid cells protects the cells against apoptosis. Knockdown of vFLIP expression in the RRV-infected BJAB cells with siRNA abolished the protection against apoptosis. These findings indicate that RRV vFLIP protects cells against apoptosis by enhancing autophagosome formation.