Background. HTLV-1 is a complex human retrovirus and an etiologic agent causing a malignant and intractable T-cell neoplasia termed Adult T-cell leukemia and lymphoma (ATLL). Patients suffering from ATLL present with poor prognoses and a dearth of treatment options warranting a continuous need to develop novel therapeutic targets. In contrast to the HTLV-1 transactivator protein Tax, HTLV-1 bZIP protein (HBZ) maintains its expression in ATLL cells. The HBZ gene is encoded from the antisense strand of the provirus and is not under the transcriptional control of the 5’ long terminal repeat (LTR) unlike other viral genes such as Tax. Few modifications have been reported in the 3’LTR, which regulates HBZ expression. Herein, we delineate the activities of a transcription factor MEF (Myocyte enhancer factor)-2 at both 5’ and 3’LTRs in the context of ATLL progression and maintenance.
Results. In this study, we report that two MEF isoforms (2A and 2C) are highly overexpressed in acute ATLL patients from North America. These isoforms are recruited to the viral promoters at both the 5’ and 3’LTRs. Their knockdown by shRNAs resulted in the downregulation of Tax and HBZ expression as well as a significant decrease in proliferation and cell cycle arrest in ATLL cells. Similarly, chemical inhibition of MEF proteins by MC1568 (a selective Class IIa HDAC inhibitor) resulted in the cytotoxicity of ATLL cells in vitro as well as reduction of proviral load and viral gene expression in vivo. At the molecular level, high enrichment of MEF-2C occurred at the 3’LTR along with cofactors Menin, Jun D, and Sp1/Sp3 thus providing a novel mechanism of regulation at the antisense promoter of HTLV-1.
Conclusions. This study establishes MEF-2 as critical players in ATLL, which interacts with Tax and HBZ at their respective promoters highlighting a novel mechanism of regulation at the 3’LTR involving Jun D and Menin. MEF signaling represent a potential target for therapeutic intervention.