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J Gen Virol. 2015 Dec;96(12):3532-44.

Merkel cell polyomavirus T antigens promote cell proliferation and inflammatory cytokine gene expression.


Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV) is clonally integrated in over 80 % of Merkel cell carcinomas and mediates tumour development through the expression of viral oncoproteins, the large T (LT) and small T antigens (sT). Viral integration is associated with signature mutations in the T-antigen locus that result in deletions of C-terminal replicative functions of the LT antigen. Despite these truncations, the LT LXCXE retinoblastoma (Rb) pocket protein family binding domain is retained, and the entire sT isoform is maintained intact. To investigate the ability of MCV oncoproteins to regulate host gene expression, we performed microarray analysis on cells stably expressing tumour-derived LT, tumour-derived LT along with sT, and tumour-derived LT with a mutated Rb interaction domain. Gene expression alterations in the presence of tumour-derived LT could be classified into three main groups: genes that are involved in the cell cycle (specifically the G1/S transition), genes involved in DNA replication and genes involved in cellular movement. The LXCXE mutant LT largely reversed gene expression alterations detected with the WT tumour-derived LT, while co-expression of sT did not significantly affect these patterns of gene expression. LXCXE-dependent upregulation of cyclin E and CDK2 correlated with increased proliferation in tumour-derived LT-expressing cells. Tumour-derived LT and tumour-derived LT plus sT increased expression of multiple cytokines and chemokines, which resulted in elevated levels of secreted IL-8. We concluded that, in human fibroblasts, the LXCXE motif of tumour-derived LT enhances cellular proliferation and upregulates cell cycle and immune signalling gene transcription.

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