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Virology. 2003 Dec 5;317(1):136-45.

Roles of viral and cellular proteins in the expression of alternatively spliced HTLV-1 pX mRNAs.

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Basic Research Laboratory, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, MD 21702-1201, USA.


The human T cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) genome contains a cluster of at least five open reading frames (ORFs) near the 3' terminus within the pX region. The pX ORFs are encoded by mono- or bicistronic mRNAs that are generated by alternative splicing. The various pX mRNAs result from skipping of the internal exon (2-exon versus 3-exon isofoms) or from the utilization of alternative splice acceptor sites in the terminal exon. The Rex and Tax proteins, encoded by ORFs X-III and X-IV, have been studied intensively and are encoded by the most abundant of the alternative 3-exon mRNAs. The protein products of the other pX ORFs have not been detected in HTLV-1-infected cell lines and the levels of the corresponding mRNAs have not been accurately established. We have used real-time RT-PCR with splice-site specific primers to accurately measure the levels of individual pX mRNA species in chronically infected T cell lines. We have asked whether virus regulatory proteins or ectopic expression of cellular factors influence pX mRNA splicing in cells that were transfected with HTLV-1 provirus clones. In chronically infected cell lines, the pX-tax/rex mRNA was present at 500- to 2500-fold higher levels than the pX-tax-orfII mRNA and at approximately 1000-fold higher levels than pX-rex-orfI mRNA. Chronically infected cell lines that contain numerous defective proviruses expressed 2-exon forms of pX mRNAs at significantly higher levels compared to cell lines that contain a single full-length provirus. Cells transfected with provirus expression plasmids expressed similar relative amounts of 3-exon pX mRNAs but lower levels of 2-exon mRNA forms compared to cells containing a single, full-length provirus. The pX mRNA expression patterns were nearly identical in cells transfected with wild-type, Tax-minus, or Rex-minus proviruses. Cotransfection of cells with HTLV-1 provirus in combination with SF2/ASF expression plasmid resulted in a relative increase in pX-tax/rex mRNA compared to pX-tax-orfII and pX-rex-orfI mRNAs, but did not affect exon skipping. Ectopic expression of hnRNP A1 did not affect pX splice site utilization, but increased exon skipping, as the level of pX-p21rex mRNA was increased by almost 10-fold.

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