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Mol Cell Biol. 1994 May;14(5):3041-52.

DNA-binding-defective mutants of the Epstein-Barr virus lytic switch activator Zta transactivate with altered specificities.

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  • 1Division of Tumor Virology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


The Epstein-Barr virus BRLF1 and BZLF1 genes are the first viral genes transcribed upon induction of the viral lytic cycle. The protein products of both genes (referred to here as Rta and Zta, respectively) activate expression of other viral genes, thereby initiating the lytic cascade. Among the viral antigens expressed upon induction of the lytic cycle, however, Zta is unique in its ability to disrupt viral latency; expression of the BZLF1 gene is both necessary and sufficient for triggering the viral lytic cascade. We have previously shown that Zta can activate its own promoter (Zp), through binding to two Zta recognition sequences (ZIIIA and ZIIIB). Here we describe mutant Zta proteins that do not bind DNA (referred to as Zta DNA-binding mutants [Zdbm]) but retain the ability to transactivate Zp. Consistent with the inability of these mutants to bind DNA, transactivation of Zp by Zdbm is not dependent on the Zta recognition sequences. Instead, transactivation by Zdbm is dependent upon promoter elements that bind cellular factors. An examination of other viral and cellular promoters identified promoters that are weakly responsive or unresponsive to Zdbm. An analysis of a panel of artificial promoters containing one copy of various promoter elements demonstrated a specificity for Zdbm activation that is distinct from that of Zta. These results suggest that non-DNA-binding forms of some transactivators retain the ability to transactivate specific target promoters without direct binding to DNA.

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