Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is the etiologic agent of multicentric Castleman’s disease, primary effusion lymphoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma. KSHV expresses a number of transcripts with the potential to generate multiple proteins, yet relies on the cellular translation machinery that is primed to synthesize only one protein per mRNA. Here we report that the viral transcript encompassing ORF35–37 is able to direct synthesis of two proteins and that the translational switch is regulated by two short upstream open reading frames (uORFs) in the native 5′ untranslated region. uORFs are elements commonly found upstream of mammalian genes that function to interfere with unrestrained ribosomal scanning and thus repress translation of the major ORF. The sequence of the viral uORF appears unimportant, and instead functions to position the translation machinery in a location that favors translation of the downstream major ORF, via a reinitiation mechanism. Thus, KSHV uses a host strategy generally reserved to repress translation to instead allow for the expression of an internal gene.
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