HTLV-1 HBZ cooperates with JunD to enhance transcription of the human telomerase reverse transcriptase gene (hTERT)
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Activation of telomerase is a critical and late event in tumor progression. Thus, in patients with adult-T cell leukaemia (ATL), an HTLV-1 (Human T cell Leukaemia virus type 1)-associated disease, leukemic cells display a high telomerase activity, mainly through transcriptional up-regulation of the human telomerase catalytic subunit (hTERT). The HBZ (HTLV-1 bZIP) protein coded by the minus strand of HTLV-1 genome and expressed in ATL cells has been shown to increase the transcriptional activity of JunD, an AP-1 protein. The presence of several AP-1 binding sites in the hTERT promoter led us to investigate whether HBZ regulates hTERT gene transcription.
Here, we demonstrate using co-transfection assays that HBZ in association with JunD activates the hTERT promoter. Interestingly, the -378/+1 proximal region, which does not contain any AP-1 site was found to be responsible for this activation. Furthermore, an increase of hTERT transcripts was observed in cells co-expressing HBZ and JunD. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays revealed that HBZ, and JunD coexist in the same DNA-protein complex at the proximal region of hTERT promoter. Finally, we provide evidence that HBZ/JunD heterodimers interact with Sp1 transcription factors and that activation of hTERT transcription by these heterodimers is mediated through GC-rich binding sites for Sp1 present in the proximal sequences of the hTERT promoter.
These observations establish for the first time that HBZ by intervening in the re-activation of telomerase, may contribute to the development and maintenance of the leukemic process.
KeywordshTERT mRNAs hTERT Promoter hTERT Gene hTERT Transcription hTERT Promoter Activity
Adult T-cell leukaemia (ATL) is a T-cell malignancy that develops in about 5% of asymptomatic HTLV-1 (human T-cell leukaemia virus, type 1) carriers after a latent period ranging from 20 to 60 years, indicating a multistage process of transformation of T lymphocytes. ATL cells are generally CD4+ T lymphocytes, in which both NF-κB and AP-1 (activator protein-1) transcription factors are constitutively active. Distinct clinical subtypes of ATL include two indolent forms, smoldering and chronic, and extremely aggressive forms, acute and lymphomatous. Chronic ATL often progresses to acute or lymphoma-type ATL and the mean survival time of patients with acute ATL is about one year [1, 2, 3]. Interestingly, the close correlation observed between telomerase activity and the clinical stage of the disease indicates that the re-activation of telomerase, by contributing to telomere stabilization, is a key event in development and progression of ATL .
A functional basic leucine zipper (bZIP) protein, HBZ (HTLV-1 bZIP factor), that is encoded by a mRNA transcribed from a functional promoter present within the anti-sense strand of the 3' end of the HTLV-1 provirus, was identified, through its expression in several HTLV-1-infected cell lines [5, 6, 7]. Moreover, HBZ was found to be the only viral gene product detected in a panel of fresh ATL cell clones . This protein contains an N-terminal transcriptional activation domain, two basic regions corresponding to nuclear localization signals, and a DNA-binding domain upstream of a C-terminal leucine zipper motif [9, 10]. Interestingly, HBZ RNA was found to promote T-cell proliferation and to up-regulate the E2F1 transcription factor . Furthermore, the HBZ protein has been shown to interact with other bZIP proteins, in particular with the AP-1 transcription factors, resulting in the modulation of their transcriptional activity [11, 12, 13]. Thus, through its interaction with CREB-2 (also called ATF-4), HBZ inhibits Tax-mediated proviral transcription from the HTLV-1 promoter within the viral LTR [10, 14, 15, 16]. Tax, a viral regulatory protein, encoded by the pX region of HTLV-1, plays a pivotal role in the early steps of the transformation of T lymphocytes infected by HTLV-1, by influencing the transcription of numerous cellular genes, among them NF-κB and AP-1 [17, 18, 19].
The hTERT proximal core promoter which contains Sp1 and c-Myc binding sites, is essential for the transcriptional activation of this cellular gene [20, 21, 22]. Recently, five putative binding sites for AP-1 have been identified within the distal regulatory sequences of the hTERT promoter . AP-1 is composed of heterodimers of Jun (c-Jun, JunB or JunD) and Fos (c-Fos, Fra1, Fra2, FosB-2) proteins and c-Fos/c-Jun and c-Fos/JunD heterodimers have been shown to decrease hTERT transcription in human cells . Interestingly, HBZ is not able to form stable homodimers and is therefore dependent on heterodimerization with other AP-1 proteins to control gene transcription [11, 12, 13]. In the present study, we investigated whether HBZ, in association with c-Jun or JunD, is able to regulate the activity of the hTERT promoter. We demonstrated that HBZ together with JunD synergistically activates hTERT transcription through their recruitment by the Sp1 transcription factors on the Sp1 sites present at the proximal region of the hTERT promoter. These observations provide an original insight by which hTERT transcription is up-regulated by this viral protein.
HBZ regulates the activity of the hTERT promoter
Interestingly, the activation observed in presence of JunD was found to be equally high using reporter pGL3-378 and pGL3-2000 constructs. As no AP-1 binding site was present in pGL3-378, this observation suggests that HBZ exerts an indirect control on the hTERT core promoter. Indeed, our data propose that the up-regulation of hTERT promoter activity is mediated by HBZ in cooperation with JunD and indicate that the proximal region of the promoter contains the responsive sequences necessary and sufficient to increase this activity. To confirm the effect of the HBZ gene in T cells, we co-transfected Jurkat T cells with the pGL3-378 reporter construct with either JunD or both JunD and HBZ (Fig 1C). It was observed that HBZ, in presence of JunD, increases the hTERT promoter activity, but to an extent lower than that observed in HeLa cells.
Both the N-terminal and leucine-zipper regions of HBZ are required to increase the hTERT promoter activity
HBZ positively regulates hTERT transcription in presence of JunD
To verify that HBZ plays a direct molecular role in the activation of hTERT expression, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays were done to seek evidence of HBZ occupancy at the hTERT promoter. HeLa cells overexpressing HBZ and JunD were crosslinked, sonicated, DNA-protein complexes collected by centrifugation, and ChIP performed (Fig 3D). Both HBZ and JunD were present at the hTERT proximal promoter region. Notably, the specificity of HBZ and JunD ChIP was illustrated by the lack of occupancy at the distal region of hTERT promoter. Collectively, these results confirm that HBZ behaves as a positive regulator of hTERT gene transcription.
Identification of the promoter sequences responsible for the HBZ/JunD-mediated transcriptional upregulation of hTERT
Physical and functional interactions of HBZ, JunD and Sp1 proteins
To demonstrate that HBZ, JunD and Sp1 co-exist within the same protein complex resident in the proximal promoter, sequential ChIP assays were performed (Fig 5C). In such assays, an initial ChIP was performed with an antibody that recognizes one protein. The precipitated chromatin-DNA complex was washed and eluted, then a second IP was performed with a second antibody. When ChIP was first performed with anti-HBZ, sequential ChIP showed occupancy of Sp1 in the same protein-DNA complex (Fig 5C, lane 6). Alternatively, when ChIP was first performed with anti-JunD, sequential ChIP showed occupancy of Sp1 in the same protein-DNA complex (lane 5). Specificity was again demonstrated, as these complexes were not detected at the distal region of the hTERT promoter
Effect of Tax on HBZ-mediated activity of the hTERT promoter
The novel viral HBZ protein coded in the minus strand of the HTLV-1 provirus has been shown to display a bimodal RNA- and protein-based function (see [16, 28] for reviews). Indeed, HBZ RNA was found to be implicated in the proliferation of infected cells . The protein, through its interactions with AP-1 proteins acquires the ability to intervene, in the regulation of viral and cellular gene transcription [10, 14, 15]. Thus, studies performed in HeLa cells with synthetic or natural promoters containing AP-1 consensus sites have indicated that HBZ inhibits the transcriptional activation mediated by c-Jun, while it enhances the activity of JunD [11, 12, 13]. Here, we demonstrate that the HBZ protein behaves as a positive or negative regulator of the hTERT promoter depending on the Jun partner. Indeed, HBZ together with JunD activates hTERT transcription, whereas HBZ with c-Jun represses it. We also observe a significant increase of hTERT transcripts in cells expressing HBZ and JunD, in spite of the inhibitory effects exerted by AP-1 proteins on the distal regions of the hTERT promoter . To our knowledge, the present study is the first that describes the effect of HBZ on a cellular gene expressed in tumour cells.
We also report that HBZ and JunD target the proximal region of the promoter in which no AP-1 site is present. Consequently, the activity of HBZ/JunD is independent of the DNA-binding properties of JunD, but instead requires the interaction of these bZIP factors with other nuclear factors. The proximal 180 bp of the hTERT core promoter is important for maintaining basal transcriptional activity of which c-Myc/Max and Sp-1 are the main activators [21, 22, 23]. Previous studies clearly demonstrated that c-Jun and related proteins (JunB, JunD and ATF-2) cooperate with Sp1 to transactivate the promoter of the human p21 gene by acting as a superactivator of the Sp1 transcription factors [24, 25]. We have therefore hypothesized that these factors together with HBZ and JunD are involved in the activation of the hTERT promoter. We have indeed found that co-expression of JunD and HBZ resulted in a strong synergistic transactivation of a luciferase reporter construct consisting of one Sp1 consensus site upstream of a TATA-box. We have further shown by immunoprecipitation and ChIP assays that the HBZ-JunD heterodimers are tethered to the proximal hTERT promoter via interaction with Sp1. Consequently, we propose that HBZ plays a positive role on hTERT transcription by cooperating with JunD, in an indirect manner through Sp1 transcription factors. Indeed, we have recently demonstrated that HBZ possesses a modulatory domain immediately adjacent to its bZIP domain involved in the stimulation of JunD transcriptional activity . This domain would influence the conformational structure of the AP-1 heterodimers to form a complex with more accessibility to the transcriptional regulators [30, 31].
Various viral proteins have also been implicated in Sp1-dependent cellular gene transcription. For instance, the oncoprotein v-Jun downregulates SPARC and collagenase alpha2(I) transcription through the formation of a DNA-Sp1-v-Jun chromatin-associated complex [32, 33]. The E1A tumor suppressor protein of adenovirus upregulates hTERT transcription through Sp1 binding sites, involving recruitment of p300/CBP proteins . Finally, the activity of the proximal promoter of hTERT is upregulated by the interaction of Sp1 with the latency-associated nuclear antigen (LANA), which potentially contributes to the immortalization of Kaposi's Sarcoma-associated herpes virus-infected cells . These data support the hypothesis for Sp1-binding sites in hTERT promoter as the responsive sequences to the Sp1-JunD-HBZ complexes.
Our experimental strategy to apprehend the role of HBZ on hTERT transcriptional regulation was based upon transient transfection assays performed in HeLa cells. These cells, which are widely used in studies on the transcriptional regulation of gene expression, have been shown to display a moderate transcriptional activity of hTERT, when compared to other cancer cell lines and to normal cells. Furthermore, a close correlation has been observed between Myc and Sp1 expression and levels of hTERT transcriptional activity . Last but not least, these cells were found to support the constitutive expression of HBZ, after transduction with a bicistronic retrovirus coding for HBZ and the green fluorescent marker GFP, contrary to T cells lines, such as CEM and Jurkat (data not shown).
hTERT promoter-luciferase reporter constructs (pGL3-3300, pGL3-2000 and pGL3-378) used in this study have been previously described . The reporter plasmid, pGL2-Sp1-TATA-Luc, contains a single copy of Sp1 binding site fused with a TATA box and the luciferase gene . The pCMV-Tax expression vector was obtained from Dr. W.C. Greene (USA). pcDNA-HBZ-Myc encoding the SI isoform of HBZ and the mutated versions (HBZΔAD, HBZΔbZip and HBZΔADΔZip) were previously described [9, 10]. The AP-1 expression vectors pcDNA-c-Jun et pCMV-JunD-Flag were obtained from Dr. M. Piechaczyk (Montpellier, France). The Sp1 expression plasmid, pMIC-Sp1, was a generous gift of Dr. J. Marvel (Lyon, France). The Gal4-Sp1B construct containing the Gal4 DNA binding domain portion (aa 1-170) fused to the domain B of Sp1 (aa 263-542) was a generous gift of Dr. D. Kardassis (Heraklion, Greece). The 5XGal4-Luc reporter (pG5Luc) containing five tandem binding sites for the yeast protein Gal4 upstream of a minimal TATA box was purchased from Promega, France.
Cells, transfections, luciferase and Western blot assays
HeLa cells were grown in Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium (Invitrogen Life technologies, Frederick, MD) supplemented with 10% heat-inactivated fetal calf serum and 100 IU/ml penicillin, 50 μg/ml streptomycin at 37°C in a 5%CO2 atmosphere. They were transfected using the calcium phosphate precipitation method . Jurkat lymphoblastoid T cells were grown in complete RPMI 1640 medium (Invitrogen) and were transfected by electroporation at 250 V and 950 μFd with a Cellject electoporator (Eurogentec). Transfection efficiencies were normalized by cotransfection of a Renilla expression vector (RL-TK, Promega). Assays were performed 30 h after transfection using the dual Luciferase Reporter assay (Promega) and a Berthold luminometer. Western blots were performed using 3 μg of protein lysates, and were revealed by using polyclonal HBZ antibody , polyclonal Sp1 antibody (generous gift of J. Marvel, Lyon, France). Mouse monoclonal anti c-myc antibodies were purchased from Roche, anti-Flag and anti-actin (AC-40) antibodies were purchased from Sigma. Secondary HRP-linked antibodies were purchased from Immunotech (France). Blots were developed using an enhanced chemiluminescence detection system (Renaissance, NEN Life Science Products). Bands were visualized by using Hyperfilm (Amersham Pharmacia Biotech).
Immunoprecipitation and in vivointeraction of HBZ, JunD and Sp1
HeLa cells (0.7 × 106 cells/10-cm dishes) were transfected with 5.5 μg of each plasmids (pcDNA-HBZ-Myc, pCMV-JunD-Flag and pMIC-Sp1) using the calcium phosphate precipitation method. 48 h post-transfection, cells were lysed in IP buffer (50 mM Tris pH8, 150 mM NaCl, 0.5% Nonidet-P40) supplemented with complete protease inhibitors (Roche Diagnostics). Cell lysates were centrifuged at 12,000 g for 10 min at +4°C. Equal amounts of cell lysates (400 μg) were first incubated with a control serum to preclear the lysate. Precleared lysates were then incubated with anti-HBZ polyclonal antibody overnight at +4°C with rotation and further incubated with protein G Plus/ProteinA Agarose beads (Calbiochem) at +4°C for 30 min with rotation. The immunoprecipitated complexes were washed five times with 0.5 ml of ice-cold IP buffer. The immunoprecipitated pellets were resuspended in 20 μl of 2X-SDS protein sample buffer and then resolved on 10% SDS-PAGE and detected by Western blot assay using anti-Flag and anti-Sp1 antibodies.
RT-PCR and quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR)
Total RNAs were isolated from cells using Trizol reagent (Invitrogen) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Samples were treated with RNase-free DNase (10 U/μl, Qiagen) for 30 min at 20°C and then for 15 min at 65°C. Five-hundred ng of RNA were reverse transcribed by using oligo(dT)12-18 and Superscript II (InVitrogen). Reverse transcription was performed for 50 min at 42°C. The total cDNA (20 μl) was frozen until PCR was performed. After thawing, 2 μl of cDNA diluted in distilled water were used for each PCR reaction. The real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) was performed in special lightcycler capillaries (Roche) with a lightcycler Instrument (Roche), by using the Platinium SYBR-Green qPCR SuperMix UDG kit (Invitrogen). The following specific primers were used to detect: hTERT sense, 5'-TGTTTCTGGATTTGCAGGTG-3' and antisense, 5'-GTTCTTGGCTTTCAGGATGG-3', actin sense, 5'-TGAGCTGCGTGTGGCTCC-3' and antisense: 5'-GGCATGGGGGAGGGCATACC-3'. The following program was used: samples were incubated at 50°C for 2 min, followed by 10 min at 95°C, followed by 40 cycles (95°C 10 sec, 61°C 5 sec, 72°C 10 sec). The dissociation curve was measured for each sample. Relative level of hTERT sequence against the reference actin sequence was calculated using the ΔCt method. A standard calibration curve was performed, using cDNA from HeLa cells. The levels of actin transcripts were used to normalize the amount of cDNA in each sample.
Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assay in vivo
ChIP assays were performed essentially by using the Upstate Biotechnology Inc. recommendations with minor modifications. Formaldehyde cross-linked chromatin from 5 × 106 cells/antibody was used for each immunoprecipitation. Cross-linking reactions were quenched with 125 mM glycine, cells were lysed, and chromatin was sonicated to obtain an average DNA length of 500 bp. Following centrifugation, the chromatin was diluted 10-fold and pre-cleared with protein A-agarose containing salmon sperm DNA and bovine serum albumin (Upstate Biotechnology). Pre-cleared chromatin (2 ml) was incubated overnight at +4°C with 5 μg of antibody recognizing JunD (sc-74, Santa Cruz Biotechnology) or Sp1 (sc-70, Santa Cruz Biotechnology) or with 10 μl of anti-HBZ or normal rabbit serum, followed by protein A-agarose immunoprecipitation. Eluted protein-DNA cross-links were reversed by heating at 65°C overnight, and 25% of the recovered DNA was used in PCR reaction to amplify the 278-bp region of the hTERT proximal promoter with the Phusion high-fidelity DNA polymerase (Ozyme) enzyme and the forward primer (-190/-171) 5'-CACAGACGCCCAGGACCGCG-3' and the reverse primer (+69/+88) 5'-GCGCGCGGCATCGCGGGGGT-3'. A control PCR (negative control leading to a 150-bp fragment) was also performed from a region devoided of Sp1 or AP1 sites within the distal region of hTERT using forward primer (-2916/-2897) 5'-GGCAGGCACGAGTGATTTTA-3' and reverse primer (-2782/-2763) 5'-CTGAGGCACGAGAATTGCTT-3' to show the specificity of Sp1 sites located on the proximal hTERT in the ChIP assay. DNA samples recovered from chromatin samples before immunoprecipitation, which corresponds to 1% of chromatin samples included in each immunoprecipitation reaction, were also PCR amplified as loading controls. The PCR reactions for hTERT were processed through 32 cycles of 98°C for 10 sec and 71°C for 30 sec, followed by one cycle for 7 min at 72°C. PCR products were separated on 2% agarose gel and visualized with ethidium bromide staining.
For sequential ChIP assays, the initial ChIP was performed with the indicated antibodies, the primary immunocomplex was then eluted by 10 mM dithiothreitol at 37°C for 30 min. The eluate was diluted 50 times with buffer (20 mM Tris-Hcl, pH8.1, 150 mM NaCl, 2 mM EDTA, and 1% Triton X-100) and a second ChIP was then carried out.
Data were expressed as mean ± SD, and when required were compared by one-way ANOVA with Dunnett's test, P < 0.05, was taken as statistically significant.
We thank M. Takakura for providing pGL3-3300, -2000 and pGL3-378, D. Kardassis for Gal4-Sp1B construct and O. Gubbay and S. Girard for critical reading of the manuscript. This work was supported by INSERM and a grant from MIRA and a grant to J.M.M. from the Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer (ARC no. 3606).
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