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J Virol. 2011 Dec;85(23):12673-85. doi: 10.1128/JVI.05296-11. Epub 2011 Sep 14.

Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 3 (HTLV-3)- and HTLV-4-derived antisense transcripts encode proteins with similar Tax-inhibiting functions but distinct subcellular localization.

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  • 1Département des Sciences Biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, Room SB-R860, 2080 Saint-Urbain Montréal, Québec, Canada H2X 3X8.


The human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV) retrovirus family is composed of the well-known HTLV type 1 (HTLV-1) and HTLV-2 and the most recently discovered HTLV-3 and HTLV-4. Like other retroviruses, HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 gene expression has been thought to be orchestrated through a single transcript. However, recent reports have demonstrated the unique potential of both HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 to produce an antisense transcript. Furthermore, these unexpected and newly identified transcripts lead to the synthesis of viral proteins termed HBZ (HTLV-1 basic leucine zipper) and APH-2 (antisense protein of HTLV-2), respectively. As potential open reading frames are present on the antisense strand of HTLV-3 and HTLV-4, we tested whether in vitro antisense transcription occurred in these viruses and whether these transcripts had a coding potential. Using HTLV-3 and HTLV-4 proviral DNA constructs, antisense transcripts were detected by reverse transcriptase PCR. These transcripts are spliced and polyadenylated and initiate at multiple sites from the 3' long terminal repeat (LTR). The resulting proteins, termed APH-3 and APH-4, are devoid of a typical basic leucine zipper domain but contain basic amino acid-rich regions. Confocal microscopy and Western blotting experiments demonstrated a nucleus-restricted pattern for APH-4, while APH-3 was localized both in the cytoplasm and in the nucleus. Both proteins showed partial colocalization with nucleoli and HBZ-associated structures. Finally, both proteins inhibited Tax1- and Tax3-mediated HTLV-1 and HTLV-3 LTR activation. These results further demonstrate that retroviral antisense transcription is not exclusive to HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 and that APH-3 and APH-4 could impact HTLV-3 and HTLV-4 replication.

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