The Epstein—Barr virus (EBV) latent membrane protein 1 (LMP-1) is essential for EBV-induced immortalization of human primary B cells, transforms rodent fibroblasts and induces the up-regulation of several B cell activation markers when transiently expressed in primary B cells. The biochemical function of LMP-1 is unclear and limited information is available on the involvement of different domains of the protein in B cell activation. The present study describes the characterization of LMP-1 N- and C-terminal deletion mutants in terms of their cell surface distribution and ability to induce activation markers in primary human B cells and in the type I Burkitt's lymphoma cell line DG75. The C-terminal deletion mutant was detected by immunofluorescence via antibodies targeted against an eight amino acid FLAG epitope substituted for the entire predicted cytoplasmic C-terminal domain. Our findings show that N-terminal deletion mutants of LMP-1 are unable to attain their usual patched distribution on the plasma membrane but retain the ability to activate B cells. In contrast, the C-terminal deletion mutant shows the same patched cell surface distribution as wild-type LMP-1 but is unable to activate B cells. The patched distribution of LMP-1 in the plasma membrane is therefore not sufficient nor necessary for the induction of B cell activation and the results rule out patching as a direct mechanism in LMP-1-induced activation. This is the first study addressing the role of the LMP-1 C-terminal domain in lymphocytes and our results show that this domain is essential for B cell activation and therefore likely to be important for the early events of B cell immortalization by EBV.


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