The aryl hydrocarbon receptor facilitates the human cytomegalovirus-mediated G1/S block to cell cycle progression.
The tryptophan metabolite, kynurenine, is known to be produced at elevated levels within human cytomegalovirus (HCMV)-infected fibroblasts. Kynurenine is an endogenous aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) ligand. Here we show that the AhR is activated following HCMV infection, and pharmacological inhibition of AhR or knockdown of AhR RNA reduced the accumulation of viral RNAs and infectious progeny. RNA-seq analysis of infected cells following AhR knockdown showed that the receptor alters the levels of numerous RNAs, including RNAs related to cell cycle progression. AhR knockdown alleviated the G1/S cell cycle block that is normally instituted in HCMV-infected fibroblasts, consistent with its known ability to regulate cell cycle progression and cell proliferation. In sum, AhR is activated by kynurenine and perhaps other ligands produced during HCMV infection, it profoundly alters the infected-cell transcriptome, and one outcome of its activity is a block to cell cycle progression, providing mechanistic insight to a long-known element of the virus-host cell interaction.