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J Biomed Sci. 2004 Jan-Feb;11(1):72-94.

Activation of RNA polymerase I transcription by hepatitis C virus core protein.

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Institute of Biochemistry, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei 112, Taiwan, ROC.


The hepatitis C virus (HCV) core protein has been implicated in the transregulation of various RNA polymerase (Pol) II dependent genes as well as in the control of cellular growth and proliferation. In this study, we show that the core protein, whether individually expressed or produced as part of the HCV viral polyprotein, is the only viral product that has the potential to activate RNA Pol I transcription. Deletion analysis demonstrated that the fragment containing the N-terminal 1-156 residues, but not the 1-122 residues, of HCV core protein confers the same level of transactivation activity as the full-length protein. Moreover, the integrity of the Ser(116) and Arg(117) residues of HCV core protein was found to be critical for its transregulatory functions. We used DNA affinity chromatography to analyze the human ribosomal RNA promoter associated transcription machinery, and the results indicated that recruitment of the upstream binding factor and RNA Pol I to the ribosomal RNA promoter is enhanced in the presence of HCV core protein. Additionally, the HCV core protein mediated activation of ribosomal RNA transcription is accompanied by the hyperphosphorylation of upstream binding factor on serine residues, but not on threonine residues. Moreover, HCV core protein is present within the RNA Pol I multiprotein complex, indicating its direct involvement in facilitating the formation of a functional transcription complex. Protein-protein interaction studies further indicated that HCV core protein can associate with the selectivity factor (SL1) via direct contact with a specific component, TATA-binding protein (TBP). Additionally, the HCV core protein in cooperation with TBP is able to activate RNA Pol II and Pol III mediated transcription, in addition to RNA Pol I transcription. Thus, the results of this study suggest that HCV has evolved a mechanism to deregulate all three nuclear transcription systems, partly through targeting of the common transcription factor, TBP. Notably, the ability of the HCV core protein to upregulate RNA Pol I and Pol III transcription supports its active role in promoting cell growth, proliferation, and the progression of liver carcinogenesis during HCV infection.

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