The Human Herpesviruses persist in the form of a latent infection in specialized cell types. During latency, the herpesvirus genomes associate with cellular histone proteins and the viral lytic genes assemble into transcriptionally repressive heterochromatin. Although there is divergence in the nature of heterochromatin on latent herpesvirus genomes, in general, the genomes assemble into forms of heterochromatin that can convert to euchromatin to permit gene expression and therefore reactivation. This reversible form of heterochromatin is known as facultative heterochromatin and is most commonly characterized by polycomb silencing. Polycomb silencing is prevalent on the cellular genome and plays a role in developmentally regulated and imprinted genes, as well as X chromosome inactivation. As herpesviruses initially enter the cell in an un-chromatinized state, they provide an optimal system to study how de novo facultative heterochromatin is targeted to regions of DNA and how it contributes to silencing. Here, we describe how polycomb-mediated silencing potentially assembles onto herpesvirus genomes, synergizing what is known about herpesvirus latency with facultative heterochromatin targeting to the cellular genome. A greater understanding of polycomb silencing of herpesviruses will inform on the mechanism of persistence and reactivation of these pathogenic human viruses and provide clues regarding how de novo facultative heterochromatin forms on the cellular genome.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.