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J Virol. 2001 Jan;75(1):215-25.

Role of NF-kappaB and myc proteins in apoptosis induced by hepatitis B virus HBx protein.

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Department of Microbiology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York 10016, USA.


Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) promotes a high level of liver disease and cancer in humans. The HBV HBx gene encodes a small regulatory protein that is essential for viral replication and is suspected to play a role in viral pathogenesis. HBx stimulates cytoplasmic signal transduction pathways, moderately stimulates a number of transcription factors, including several nuclear factors, and in certain settings sensitizes cells to apoptosis by proapoptotic stimuli, including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and etopocide. Paradoxically, HBx activates members of the NF-kappaB transcription factor family, some of which are antiapoptotic in function. HBx induces expression of Myc protein family members in certain settings, and Myc can sensitize cells to killing by TNF-alpha. We therefore examined the roles of NF-kappaB, c-Myc, and TNF-alpha in apoptotic killing of cells by HBx. RelA/NF-kappaB is shown to be induced by HBx and to suppress HBx-mediated apoptosis. HBx also induces c-Rel/NF-kappaB, which can promote apoptotic cell death in some contexts or block it in others. Induction of c-Rel by HBx was found to inhibit its ability to directly mediate apoptotic killing of cells. Thus, HBx induction of NF-kappaB family members masks its ability to directly mediate apoptosis, whereas ablation of NF-kappaB reveals it. Investigation of the role of Myc protein demonstrates that overexpression of Myc is essential for acute sensitization of cells to killing by HBx plus TNF-alpha. This study therefore defines a specific set of parameters which must be met for HBx to possibly contribute to HBV pathogenesis.

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