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J Biol Chem. 2012 Dec 28;287(53):44714-35. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.397158. Epub 2012 Nov 6.

Multiple NF-κB sites in HIV-1 subtype C long terminal repeat confer superior magnitude of transcription and thereby the enhanced viral predominance.

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  • 1HIV-AIDS Laboratory, Molecular Biology and Genetics Unit, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru 560064, India.


We demonstrate that at least three different promoter variant strains of HIV-1 subtype C have been gradually expanding and replacing the standard subtype C viruses in India, and possibly in South Africa and other global regions, over the past decade. The new viral strains contain an additional NF-κB, NF-κB-like, or RBEIII site in the viral promoter. Although the acquisition of an additional RBEIII site is a property shared by all the HIV-1 subtypes, acquiring an additional NF-κB site remains an exclusive property of subtype C. The acquired κB site is genetically distinct, binds the p50-p65 heterodimer, and strengthens the viral promoter at the levels of transcription initiation and elongation. The 4-κB viruses dominate the 3-κB "isogenic" viral strains in pairwise competition assays in T-cell lines, primary cells, and the ecotropic human immunodeficiency virus mouse model. The dominance of the 4-κB viral strains is also evident in the natural context when the subjects are coinfected with κB-variant viral strains. The mean plasma viral loads, but not CD4 counts, are significantly different in 4-κB infection suggesting that these newly emerging strains are probably more infectious. It is possible that higher plasma viral loads underlie selective transmission of the 4-κB viral strains. Several publications previously reported duplication or deletion of diverse transcription factor-binding sites in the viral promoter. Unlike previous reports, our study provides experimental evidence that the new viral strains gained a potential selective advantage as a consequence of the acquired transcription factor-binding sites and importantly that these strains have been expanding at the population level.

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