A third component of the human cytomegalovirus terminase complex is involved in letermovir resistance
Letermovir is a human cytomegalovirus (CMV) terminase inhibitor that was clinically effective in a Phase III prevention trial. In vitro studies have shown that viral mutations conferring letermovir resistance map primarily to the UL56 component of the terminase complex and uncommonly to UL89. After serial culture of a baseline CMV laboratory strain under letermovir, mutation was observed in a third terminase component in 2 experiments, both resulting in amino acid substitution P91S in gene UL51 and adding to a pre-existing UL56 mutation. Recombinant phenotyping indicated that P91S alone conferred 2.1-fold increased letermovir resistance (EC50) over baseline, and when combined with UL56 mutation S229F or R369M, multiplied the level of resistance conferred by those mutations by 3.5–7.7-fold. Similarly a combination of UL56 mutations S229F, L254F and L257I selected in the same experiment conferred 54-fold increased letermovir EC50 over baseline, but 290-fold when combined with UL51 P91S. The P91S mutant was not perceptibly growth impaired. Although pUL51 is essential for normal function of the terminase complex, its biological significance is not well understood. Letermovir resistance mutations mapping to 3 separate genes, and their multiplier effect on the level of resistance, suggest that the terminase components interactively contribute to the structure of a letermovir antiviral target. The diagnostic importance of the UL51 P91S mutation arises from its potential to augment the letermovir resistance of some UL56 mutations at low fitness cost.