C-terminally truncated surface proteins of hepatitis B virus (HBV) are frequently translated from genomically integrated viral sequences. They may be relevant for hepatocarcinogenesis by stimulating gene expression. First, we examined the transactivating potential of middle hepatitis B surface protein truncated at amino acid (aa) position 167 (MHBst167) on the HBV regulatory element. In transient cotransfection assays using Chang liver or HepG2 cell lines and chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) reporter constructs only the HBV enhancer I, but no other HBV regulatory elements like the X promoter, the S1 or S2 promoter or the enhancer II/core promoter could be stimulated by MHBst167. Since there is no evidence for a direct interaction of MHBst167 with DNA, we subsequently analysed whether cellular transcription factors were involved in mediating transactivation. This was tested both with isolated transcription-factor-binding sites and in the natural context of viral and cellular promoter elements. Deletion analysis and electrophoretic mobility shift assays revealed that Sp1, AP1 and NF-kappa B can mediate transactivation by MHBst167. No involvement of CREB, NF1 or the liver-specific factor C/EBP was found. These data indicate that MHBst167 is a pleiotropic, non-liver-specific transactivator which exerts its effect via ubiquitous cellular transcription factors that are also involved in the regulation of expression of cellular genes relevant for proliferation and inflammation.


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