Sequence variations are seen in the JC virus promoter/enhancer in virus taken from progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) brains and it has been hypothesized that the variations arise in the host at some point in the development of PML. These rearrangements may be adaptations for enhanced growth in glial cells; if so, transcription or replication levels should differ between archetypal and rearranged PML-type promoters. The archetype and four PML-type promoters were analysed in human glial cells for early and late transcriptional activity in the absence or presence of virus T antigen, and for DNA replication. CAT reporter expression differed within a fivefold range and the archetype was intermediate in strength to the PML-type regulatory regions. The archetype differed from rearranged promoters in that the late promoter was less responsive to T antigen and the shift from early to late activity with T antigen was less pronounced. All five regulatory regions demonstrated similar levels of DNA replicating activity. Rearrangement of the archetype was not required for activity in glial cells, but the potential for differences in the regulation of the late capsid genes was found.


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