The human cytomegalovirus-encoded G protein- coupled receptor UL33 exhibits oncomodulatory properties

Jeffrey R. Van Senten, Maarten P. Bebelman, Tian Shu Fan, Raimond Heukers, Nick D. Bergkamp, Puck Van Gasselt, Ellen V. Langemeijer, Erik Slinger, Tonny Lagerweij, Afsar Rahbar, Marijke Stigter Van Walsum, David Maussang, Rob Leurs, René J.P. Musters, Guus A.M.S. Van Dongen, Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér, Thomas Würdinger, Marco Siderius, Martine J. Smit*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Herpesviruses can rewire cellular signaling in host cells by expressing viral G protein- coupled receptors (GPCRs). These viral receptors exhibit homology to human chemokine receptors, but some display constitutive activity and promiscuous G protein coupling. Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) has been detected in multiple cancers, including glioblastoma, and its genome encodes four GPCRs. One of these receptors, US28, is expressed in glioblastoma and possesses constitutive activity and oncomodulatory properties. UL33, another HCMV-encoded GPCR, also displays constitutive signaling via Gαq, Gαi, and Gαs proteins. However, little is known about the nature and functional effects of UL33-driven signaling. Here, we assessed UL33's signaling repertoire and oncomodulatory potential. UL33 activated multiple proliferative, angiogenic, and inflammatory signaling pathways in HEK293T and U251 glioblastoma cells. Notably, upon infection, UL33 contributed to HCMV-mediated STAT3 activation. Moreover, UL33 increased spheroid growth in vitro and accelerated tumor growth in different in vivo tumor models, including an orthotopic glioblastoma xenograft model. UL33-mediated signaling was similar to that stimulated by US28; however, UL33-induced tumor growth was delayed. Additionally, the spatiotemporal expression of the two receptors only partially overlapped in HCMV-infected glioblastoma cells. In conclusion, our results unveil that UL33 has broad signaling capacity and provide mechanistic insight into its functional effects. UL33, like US28, exhibits oncomodulatory properties, elicited via constitutive activation of multiple signaling pathways. UL33 and US28 might contribute to HCMV's oncomodulatory effects through complementing and converging cellular signaling, and hence UL33 may represent a promising drug target in HCMV-associated malignancies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16297-16308
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number44
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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