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PLoS Pathogens


Upon viral infection, cells undergo apoptosis as a defense against viral replication. Viruses, in turn, have evolved elaborate mechanisms to subvert apoptotic processes. Here, we report that a novel viral mitochondrial anti-apoptotic protein (vMAP) of murine gamma-herpesvirus 68 (gammaHV-68) interacts with Bcl-2 and voltage-dependent anion channel 1 (VDAC1) in a genetically separable manner. The N-terminal region of vMAP interacted with Bcl-2, and this interaction markedly increased not only Bcl-2 recruitment to mitochondria but also its avidity for BH3-only pro-apoptotic proteins, thereby suppressing Bax mitochondrial translocation and activation. In addition, the central and C-terminal hydrophobic regions of vMAP interacted with VDAC1. Consequently, these interactions resulted in the effective inhibition of cytochrome c release, leading to the comprehensive inhibition of mitochondrion-mediated apoptosis. Finally, vMAP gene was required for efficient gammaHV-68 lytic replication in normal cells, but not in mitochondrial apoptosis-deficient cells. These results demonstrate that gammaHV-68 vMAP independently targets two important regulators of mitochondrial apoptosis-mediated intracellular innate immunity, allowing efficient viral lytic replication.