When the latent Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genome in B95-8 cells is induced into a replicative phase, two abundant early RNAs are transcribed rightward from the EBV BamHI H DNA fragment into BamHI F. Analysis of cDNA clones prepared from the RNA of cells replicating EBV revealed that both RNAs contain the BHRF1 open reading frame. Part of BHRF1, cloned into a prokaryotic fusion protein expression vector, expressed a fusion protein in Escherichia coli and the purified fusion protein was used to generate a monoclonal antibody against BHRF1. This antibody was then employed to characterize the protein encoded by BHRF1 in cells replicating EBV. The monoclonal antibody reacted with a 17-kDa protein component of the restricted early antigen (EA) complex. The distribution of the protein in cells was similar to that noted when sera from patients with African Burkitt's lymphoma were used to stain these cells. The protein was synthesized before the major 47-56 kDa protein associated with the diffuse component of EA in superinfected Raji cells. All human sera containing antibodies to EA as determined by immunofluorescence (IF) reacted with the protein as did some sera determined to be anti-VCA positive and anti-EA negative by IF. The predicted amino acid sequence of the protein has characteristics which suggest that it is a membrane protein. It also has significant homology with both the anchor region of polyoma middle T antigen and with the predicted protein product of the bcl-2 mRNA activated by the 14 18 chromosome translocation characteristic of follicular lymphomas. This latter homology is extensive and colinear, suggesting common evolution and function. However, neither a mRNA which could efficiently translate the BHRF1 protein nor the BHRF1 protein could be detected in latently infected cells. Thus, the bcl-2 predicted protein is similar to an EBV protein synthesized in the early phase of virus infection.
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