Apoptosis has the potential to function as a defence mechanism during viral infection. Identification of CMV mutants that cause the apoptotic death of infected cells confirmed that viral infection activates apoptotic pathways and that this process is counteracted by CMV to ensure efficient viral replication. The recent identification of CMV-encoded proteins that suppress cell death has greatly enhanced our understanding of the mechanisms used by this family of viruses to prevent apoptosis. CMV do not encode homologues of known death-suppressing proteins, suggesting that the CMV family has evolved novel, more sophisticated strategies for the inhibition of apoptosis. The identification and characterization of the human CMV (HCMV)-encoded antiapoptotic proteins UL36 (viral inhibitor of caspase-8 activation [vICA]) and UL37 (viral mitochondria-localized inhibitor of apoptosis [vMIA]) have confirmed that CMV target unique apoptotic control points. For example, vMIA inhibits apoptosis by binding Bax and sequestering it at the mitochondrial membrane as an inactive oligomer. This knowledge not only provides a more complete understanding of the CMV replication process but also allows the identification of previously unrecognized apoptotic checkpoints. Because HCMV is an important cause of birth defects and an increasingly important opportunistic pathogen, a firm grasp of the mechanisms by which it affects cellular apoptosis may provide avenues for the design of improved therapeutic strategies. Here, we review the recent progress made in understanding the role of CMV-encoded proteins in the inhibition of apoptosis.
- Tumour necrosis factor receptor
- Viral inhibitor of apoptosis
- Viral mitochondria-localized inhibitor of apoptosis