PLoS Pathog. 2023 Jul 31;19(7):e1011494. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1011494. Online ahead of print.
Infections by Human T cell Leukaemia Virus type 1 (HTLV-1) persist for the lifetime of the host by integrating into the genome of CD4+ T cells. Proviral gene expression is essential for proviral survival and the maintenance of the proviral load, through the pro-proliferative changes it induces in infected cells. Despite their role in HTLV-1 infection and a persistent cytotoxic T lymphocyte response raised against the virus, proviral transcripts from the sense-strand are rarely detected in fresh cells extracted from the peripheral blood, and have recently been found to be expressed intermittently by a small subset of cells at a given time. Ex vivo culture of infected cells prompts synchronised proviral expression in infected cells from peripheral blood, allowing the study of factors involved in reactivation in primary cells. Here, we used bulk RNA-seq to examine the host transcriptome over six days in vitro, following proviral reactivation in primary peripheral CD4+ T cells isolated from subjects with non-malignant HTLV-1 infection. Infected cells displayed a conserved response to reactivation, characterised by discrete stages of gene expression, cell division and subsequently horizontal transmission of the virus. We observed widespread changes in Polycomb gene expression following reactivation, including an increase in PRC2 transcript levels and diverse changes in the expression of PRC1 components. We hypothesize that these transcriptional changes constitute a negative feedback loop that maintains proviral latency by re-deposition of H2AK119ub1 following the end of proviral expression. Using RNAi, we found that certain deubiquitinases, BAP1, USP14 and OTUD5 each promote proviral transcription. These data demonstrate the detailed trajectory of HTLV-1 proviral reactivation in primary HTLV-1-carrier lymphocytes and the impact on the host cell.