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HTLV-1 HBZ cooperates with JunD to enhance transcription of the human telomerase reverse transcriptase gene (hTERT)

Anne-Sophie Kuhlmann123, Julien Villaudy123, Louis Gazzolo123, Marc Castellazzi123, Jean-Michel Mesnard4 and Madeleine Duc Dodon123*

Author Affiliations

1 Virologie Humaine, INSERM-U758, 69364 Lyon Cedex 07, France

2 Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, 69364 Lyon Cedex 07, France

3 IFR 128 BioSciences Lyon-Gerland, 69364 Lyon Cedex 07, France

4 Laboratoire des Infections Rétrovirales et Signalisation Cellulaire, CNRS/UM I UMR 5121/IFR122, Institut de Biologie, 34960 Cedex 2 Montpellier, France

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Retrovirology 2007, 4:92  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-4-92

Published: 13 December 2007



Activation of telomerase is a critical and late event in tumor progression. Thus, in patients with adult-T cell leukaemia (ATL), an HTLV-1 (Human T cell Leukaemia virus type 1)-associated disease, leukemic cells display a high telomerase activity, mainly through transcriptional up-regulation of the human telomerase catalytic subunit (hTERT). The HBZ (HTLV-1 bZIP) protein coded by the minus strand of HTLV-1 genome and expressed in ATL cells has been shown to increase the transcriptional activity of JunD, an AP-1 protein. The presence of several AP-1 binding sites in the hTERT promoter led us to investigate whether HBZ regulates hTERT gene transcription.


Here, we demonstrate using co-transfection assays that HBZ in association with JunD activates the hTERT promoter. Interestingly, the -378/+1 proximal region, which does not contain any AP-1 site was found to be responsible for this activation. Furthermore, an increase of hTERT transcripts was observed in cells co-expressing HBZ and JunD. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays revealed that HBZ, and JunD coexist in the same DNA-protein complex at the proximal region of hTERT promoter. Finally, we provide evidence that HBZ/JunD heterodimers interact with Sp1 transcription factors and that activation of hTERT transcription by these heterodimers is mediated through GC-rich binding sites for Sp1 present in the proximal sequences of the hTERT promoter.


These observations establish for the first time that HBZ by intervening in the re-activation of telomerase, may contribute to the development and maintenance of the leukemic process.