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FEBS J. 2012 Apr;279(7):1220-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2012.08514.x. Epub 2012 Feb 23.

Akt augments the oncogenic potential of the HBx protein of hepatitis B virus by phosphorylation.

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Virology Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, India.


Hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) is a putative viral oncoprotein that plays an important role in various cellular processes, including modulation of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt signalling pathway. However, the molecular mechanism of Akt activation remains elusive. Here we show that HBx interacts with Akt1 kinase and is phosphorylated at serine 31 as indicated by mutational analysis of the Akt recognition motif (creating the HBxS31A mutant) or immunoblotting of HBx immunoprecipitates using Akt motif-specific antibody. The Akt-dependent phosphorylation of HBx was abrogated in the presence of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitor LY294002 or Akt1 gene silencing by specific siRNA. Co-immunoprecipitation studies provided evidence for HBx-Akt interaction in a cellular environment. This interaction was also confirmed in hepatoma HepG2.2.15 cells in which HBx was expressed at physiological levels from the integrated hepatitis B viral genome. The HBx-Akt interaction was essential for Akt signalling, and involved displacement of the Akt-bound negative regulator 'C-terminal modulator protein' by HBx. HBx-activated Akt phosphorylated its downstream target glycogen synthase kinase 3β, leading to stabilization of β-catenin, while p65 phosphorylation resulted in enhanced promoter recruitment and expression of target genes encoding cyclin D1 and Bcl-XL. Further, the oncogenic potential of HBx was significantly augmented in the presence of Akt in a soft agar colony formation assay. Together, these results suggest that oncogenic co-operation between HBx and Akt may be important for cell proliferation, abrogation of apoptosis and tumorigenic transformation of cells.

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