Mouse strains are either resistant or susceptible to murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV). Resistance is determined by the CMV1r (Ly49h) gene, which encodes the Ly49H NK cell activation receptor. The protein encoded by the m157 gene of MCMV has been defined as a ligand for Ly49H. To find out whether the m157 protein is the only Ly49H ligand encoded by MCMV, we constructed the m157 deletion mutant and a revertant virus. Viruses were tested for susceptibility to NK cell control in Ly49H- and Ly49H- mouse strains. Deletion of the m157 gene abolished the viral activation of Ly49H+ NK cells, resulting in higher virus virulence in vivo. Thus, in the absence of m157, Ly49H+ mice react like susceptible strains. 129/SvJ mice lack the Ly49H activation NK cell receptor but express the inhibitory Ly49I NK cell receptor that binds to the m157 protein. The Δm157 inhibitory phenotype was weak because MCMV encodes a number of proteins that mediate NK inhibition, whose contribution could be shown by another mutant.
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