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J Virol. Sep 1994; 68(9): 5602–5612.
PMCID: PMC236961

Upregulation of bcl-2 by the Epstein-Barr virus latent membrane protein LMP1: a B-cell-specific response that is delayed relative to NF-kappa B activation and to induction of cell surface markers.


An ability of the Epstein-Barr virus latent membrane protein LMP1 to enhance the survival of infected B cells through upregulation of the bcl-2 oncogene was first suggested by experiments involving gene transfection and the selection of stable LMP1+ clones (S. Henderson, M. Rowe, C. Gregory, F. Wang, E. Kieff, and A. Rickinson, Cell 65:1107-1115, 1991). However, it was not possible to ascertain whether Bcl-2 upregulation was a specific consequence of LMP1 expression or an artifact of the selection procedure whereby rare Bcl-2+ cells already present in the starting population might best be able to tolerate the potentially toxic effects of LMP1. We therefore reexamined this issue by using two different experimental approaches that allowed LMP1-induced effects to be monitored immediately following expression of the viral protein and in the absence of selective pressures; activation of the NF-kappa B transcription factor and upregulation of the cell adhesion molecule ICAM-1 were used as early indices of LMP1 function. In the first approach, stable clones of two B-cell lines carrying an LMP1 gene under the control of an inducible metallothionein promoter were induced to express LMP1 in all cells. Activation of NK-kappa B and upregulation of ICAM-1 occurred within 24 h and were followed at 48 to 72 h by upregulation of Bcl-2. In the second approach, we tested the generality of this phenomenon by transiently expressing LMP1 from a strong constitutively active promoter in a range of different cell types. All six B-cell lines tested showed NF-kappa B activation in response to LMP1 expression, and this was followed in five of six lines by expression of ICAM-1 and Bcl-2. In the same experiments, all three non-B-cell lines showed NF-kappa B activation and ICAM-1 upregulation but never any effect upon Bcl-2. We therefore conclude that Bcl-2 upregulation is part of the panoply of cellular changes induced by LMP1 but that the effect is cell type specific. Our data also suggest that whilst NF-kappa B may be an essential component of LMP1 signal transduction, other cell-specific factors may be required to effect some functions of the viral protein.

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