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Virology. 2008 May 10;374(2):371-80. doi: 10.1016/j.virol.2007.12.011. Epub 2008 Jan 31.

Regulation of human papillomavirus type 31 gene expression during the differentiation-dependent life cycle through histone modifications and transcription factor binding.

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Department of Microbiology-Immunology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, 320 E. Superior St. Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


The life cycle of high-risk human papillomaviruses is linked to epithelial differentiation with virion production restricted to highly differentiated suprabasal cells. Two major viral promoters direct high-risk HPV gene expression and their activities are dependent upon differentiation. The early promoter controls initiation of transcripts at sites upstream of the E6 open reading frame and is active in both undifferentiated as well as differentiated cells. The late viral promoter directs transcription from a series of heterogeneous start sites in E7 and is activated upon differentiation. In this study, the state of histones as well as the spectrum of transcription factors bound to the two major HPV 31 viral promoters in undifferentiated and differentiated cells were examined using chromatin immunoprecipitation assays. Our studies indicate that, in undifferentiated cells, the chromatin surrounding both promoter regions is in an open, transcriptionally active state as indicated by the presence of dimethylated forms of histone H3 K4 as well as acetylated H3 and acetylated H4. Upon differentiation, there was an increase of four to six fold in the levels of dimethylated H3K4 and acetylated H3 respectively around both promoter regions as well as an increase of approximately nine fold in acetylated H4 at the early promoter. This suggests that nucleosomes of both promoter regions are further activated through histone modifications during differentiation. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays were also used to examine the binding of transcription factors to the keratinocyte enhancer (KE)/early promoter region in the upstream regulatory region (URR) and late promoter sequences throughout differentiation. Our results suggest that a dynamic change in transcription factor binding occurs in both regions upon differentiation; most notably a significant increase in C/EBP-beta binding to the KE/early promoter region as well as C/EBP-alpha binding to the late promoter region upon differentiation. These increases in binding cannot be solely explained by changes in the total cellular levels of these factors following differentiation, but instead reflect increased binding specific to HPV genomes. Finally, transient expression analyses confirmed that the KE/early promoter region of the URR contributes significantly to the activation of late gene expression and this is consistent with regulation through the combinatorial binding of multiple transcription factors.

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