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J Virol. 1996 Dec;70(12):8719-26.

Promoters for synthesis of the pre-C and pregenomic mRNAs of human hepatitis B virus are genetically distinct and differentially regulated.

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McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison 53706-1599, USA.


Two similar, yet functionally distinct genomic RNAs are transcribed from the DNA genome of the human hepatitis B virus. The pre-C RNAs encode the precore protein which is proteolytically processed to yield e antigen. The pregenomic RNAs encode both the nucleocapsid protein and reverse transcriptase and serve as the templates for viral DNA replication. To determine whether synthesis of these two RNAs is directed from a single or a closely spaced pair of promoters, we introduced point and insertion mutations into the basal elements of the promoter that directs their synthesis. Transcription from these mutants was examined both in cell-free transcription systems derived from hepatoma (HepG2) and nonliver (HeLa) cell lines and by transient transfection of hepatoma cell lines (Huh7 and HepG2). The data from these experiments indicated that synthesis of the pre-C and pregenomic RNAs is directed by two distinct promoters and that the basal elements of these two promoters partially overlap, yet are genetically separable, with each consisting of its own transcriptional initiator and a TATA box-like sequence situated approximately 25 to 30 bp upstream of its sites of initiation. A 15-bp insertion was found to be sufficient to physically separate these two promoters. Furthermore, these two promoters can be differentially regulated, with the transcriptional activator Sp1 specifically activating transcription from the pregenomic promoter and the hepatocyte nuclear factor 4 specifically repressing transcription from the pre-C promoter. Thus, we conclude that the promoters used in synthesis of the pre-C and pregenomic mRNAs are genetically distinct and separately regulated.

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