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Genes Dev. 1991 Dec;5(12B):2496-507.

The HIV-1 Tat protein activates transcription from an upstream DNA-binding site: implications for Tat function.

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Program in Molecular Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester 01605.


The Tat protein of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) activates transcription following binding to nascent trans-activation response (TAR) RNA downstream of the transcription start site. Because Tat functions when bound to RNA, and in a position-dependent manner, it has been proposed that Tat works by a novel mechanism. Here, we perform a series of protein fusion experiments that reveal striking similarities between Tat and conventional cellular activators. Most significantly, we demonstrate that Tat can function when bound to upstream promoter DNA. This activity depends on a region within Tat that is also required for Tat to function when bound to TAR RNA. In contrast, the arginine-rich region of Tat, which is required for binding to TAR RNA, is dispensable for the function of DNA-bound Tat. When bound either to RNA or DNA Tat activity requires cooperation with promoter-bound cellular transcription factors. Finally, we show that Tat and a strong acidic activator stimulate transcription to comparable levels. On the basis of these and other results we suggest that Tat and acidic activators act on a similar step in the transcription process.

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