During evolution, herpesviruses have developed numerous, and often very ingenious, strategies to counteract efficient host immunity. Specifically, Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) eludes host immunity by undergoing a dormant stage, called latency wherein it expresses a minimal number of viral proteins to evade host immune activation. Here, we show that during latency, KSHV hijacks the complement pathway to promote cell survival. We detected strong deposition of complement membrane attack complex C5b-9 and the complement component C3 activated product C3b on Kaposi's sarcoma spindle tumor cells, and on human endothelial cells latently infected by KSHV, TIME-KSHV and TIVE-LTC, but not on their respective uninfected control cells, TIME and TIVE. We further showed that complement activation in latently KSHV-infected cells was mediated by the alternative complement pathway through down-regulation of cell surface complement regulatory proteins CD55 and CD59. Interestingly, complement activation caused minimal cell death but promoted the survival of latently KSHV-infected cells grown in medium depleted of growth factors. We found that complement activation increased STAT3 tyrosine phosphorylation (Y705) of KSHV-infected cells, which was required for the enhanced cell survival. Furthermore, overexpression of either CD55 or CD59 in latently KSHV-infected cells was sufficient to inhibit complement activation, prevent STAT3 Y705 phosphorylation and abolish the enhanced survival of cells cultured in growth factor-depleted condition. Together, these results demonstrate a novel mechanism by which an oncogenic virus subverts and exploits the host innate immune system to promote viral persistent infection.
The complement system is an important part of the innate immune system. Pathogens have evolved diverse strategies to evade host immune responses including attack of the complement system. Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is associated with Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), primary effusion lymphoma and a subset of multicentric Castleman's disease. KSHV encodes a number of viral proteins to counter host immune responses during productive lytic replication. On the other hand, KSHV utilizes latency as a default replication program during which it expresses a minimal number of proteins to evade host immune detection. Thus, the complement system is expected to be silent during KSHV latency. In this study, we have found that the complement system is unexpectedly activated in latently KSHV-infected endothelial cells and in KS tumor cells wherein KSHV downregulates the expression of CD55 and CD59 complement regulatory proteins. More interestingly, most of latently KSHV-infected cells not only are resistant to complement-mediated cell killing, but also acquire survival advantage by inducing STAT3 tyrosine phosphorylation. These results demonstrate a novel mechanism by which an oncogenic virus exploits the host innate immune system to promote viral persistent infection.