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Version 2. Wellcome Open Res. 2018 Dec 11 [revised 2018 Dec 11];3:105. doi: 10.12688/wellcomeopenres.14741.2. eCollection 2018.

Epigenetic changes around the pX region and spontaneous HTLV-1 transcription are CTCF-independent.

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Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, W2 1PG, UK.
Center for AIDS Research, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, 860-0811, Japan.
Department of Immunology, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, 903-0215, Japan.


Background: The human retrovirus HTLV-1 inserts the viral complementary DNA of 9 kb into the host genome. Both plus- and minus-strands of the provirus are transcribed, respectively from the 5' and 3' long terminal repeats (LTR). Plus-strand expression is rapid and intense once activated, whereas the minus-strand is transcribed at a lower, more constant level. To identify how HTLV-1 transcription is regulated, we investigated the epigenetic modifications associated with the onset of spontaneous plus-strand expression and the potential impact of the host factor CTCF. Methods: Patient-derived peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and in vitro HTLV-1-infected T cell clones were examined. Cells were stained for the plus-strand-encoded viral protein Tax, and sorted into Tax + and Tax - populations. Chromatin immunoprecipitation and methylated DNA immunoprecipitation were performed to identify epigenetic modifications in the provirus. Bisulfite-treated DNA fragments from the HTLV-1 LTRs were sequenced. Single-molecule RNA-FISH was performed, targeting HTLV-1 transcripts, for the estimation of transcription kinetics. The CRISPR/Cas9 technique was applied to alter the CTCF-binding site in the provirus, to test the impact of CTCF on the epigenetic modifications. Results: Changes in the histone modifications H3K4me3, H3K9Ac and H3K27Ac were strongly correlated with plus-strand expression. DNA in the body of the provirus was largely methylated except for the pX and 3' LTR regions, regardless of Tax expression. The plus-strand promoter was hypomethylated when Tax was expressed. Removal of CTCF had no discernible impact on the viral transcription or epigenetic modifications. Conclusions: The histone modifications H3K4me3, H3K9Ac and H3K27Ac are highly dynamic in the HTLV-1 provirus: they show rapid change with the onset of Tax expression, and are reversible. The HTLV-1 provirus has an intrinsic pattern of epigenetic modifications that is independent of both the provirus insertion site and the chromatin architectural protein CTCF which binds to the HTLV-1 provirus.


Antisense transcription; CRISPR/Cas9; CTCF; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; HTLV-1; Histone modifications; Retrovirus; Single-molecule RNA-FISH; Transcription kinetics

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