Human T lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) is a complex retrovirus containing regulatory and accessory genes encoded in four open reading frames (ORF I-IV) of the pX region. It is not clear what role pX ORFs I and II-encoded proteins have in the pathogenesis of the lymphoproliferative diseases associated with HTLV-1 infection. The conserved ORF I encodes for a hydrophobic 12-kDa protein, p12,(I) that contains four SH3 binding motifs (PXXP) that localizes to cellular endomembranes when overexpressed in cultured cells. Differential splicing of pX ORF II results in the production of two nuclear proteins, p13(II) and p30(II). p13(II) also localizes to mitochondria, p30(II) shares homology with the POU family of transcription factors. We have identified functional roles of pX ORF I and ORF II in establishment and maintenance of infection in a rabbit model. To functionally study p12(I) we have tested a proviral clone with selective ablation of ORF I (ACH.p12(I)) for its ability to infect quiescent peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Our data indicate that T cells infected with the wild-type clone of HTLV-1 (ACH) are more efficient than ACH.p12(I) in infecting quiescent PBMC. These findings parallel our animal model data and suggest a role for p12(I) in the activation of quiescent lymphocytes, a prerequisite for effective viral replication in vivo. To test the ability of p30(II) to function as a transcription factor we have constructed p30(II) as a Gal4-fusion protein. When transfected with Gal4-driven luciferase reporter genes, the p30(II)-Gal4-fusion protein induces transcriptional activity up to 50-fold in both 293 and HeLa-Tat cells. These systems will be useful to identify molecular mechanisms that explain the functional role of pX ORF I and ORF II-encoded proteins in HTLV-1 replication.
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