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The MHC-II transactivator CIITA, a viral restriction factor inhibiting the replication of Human T-Cell Lymphotropic Virus Type 1

Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus type-1 (HTLV-1) is the causative agent of an aggressive malignancy of CD4+ T lymphocytes. It is believed that the viral transactivator Tax-1 is a major player in T-cell transformation. Thus, targeting Tax-1 protein is regarded as a possible strategy to arrest viral replication and ultimately to counteract neoplastic transformation.

Here, we demonstrated that CIITA, the master regulator of MHC class II gene transcription, inhibits HTLV-1 replication by blocking the transactivating function of Tax-1. Co-immunoprecipitation experiments have shown that CIITA and Tax-1 physically interact in vivo and that the first 108 amino acids of Tax-1 were necessary for this binding. Two adjacent regions (1-252 and 253-410) of CIITA bound independently to Tax-1, but only region 1-252 mediated Tax-1 inhibition, in agreement with the fact that CIITA residues from positions 64-124 were required to block Tax-1 transactivation. CIITA inhibitory action on Tax-1 function correlated with the nuclear localization of CIITA and was independent of the transcription factor NF-YB, previously involved in CIITA-mediated inhibition of Tax-2 of HTLV-2, a virus with still elusive pathogenic action. Furthermore, CIITA severely impaired the physical and functional interaction of Tax-1 with the cellular co-activator PCAF, which is required for the optimal activation of HTLV-1 promoter. Accordingly, the over-expression of PCAF restored Tax-1-dependent transactivation of the viral LTR promoter inhibited by CIITA.

These findings strongly support our original observation that CIITA, beside increasing the antigen-presenting function for pathogen antigens, acts as an endogenous restriction factor against human retroviruses by blocking virus replication and spreading.

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Correspondence to Giovanna Tosi.

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This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Tosi, G., Forlani, G., Andresen, V. et al. The MHC-II transactivator CIITA, a viral restriction factor inhibiting the replication of Human T-Cell Lymphotropic Virus Type 1. Retrovirology 8 (Suppl 1), A171 (2011).

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