The E1 and E2 proteins are both required for papillomavirus DNA replication, and replication efficiency is controlled by the abundance of these factors. In human papillomaviruses (HPVs), the regulation of E1 and E2 expression and its effect on viral replication are not well understood. In particular, it is not known if E1 and E2 modulate their own expression and how posttranscriptional mechanisms may affect the levels of the replication proteins. Previous studies have implicated splicing within the E6 open reading frame (ORF) as being important for modulating replication of HPV type 31 (HPV31) through altered expression of E1 and E2. To analyze the function of the E6 intron in viral replication more specifically, we examined the effects of E6 splicing mutations in the context of entire viral genomes in transient assays. HPV31 genomes which had mutations in the splice donor site (E6SD) or the splice acceptor site (E6SA), a deletion of the intron (E6ID), or substituted heterologous intron sequences (E6IS) were constructed. Compared to wild-type (wt) HPV31, pHPV31-E6SD, -E6SA, and -E6IS replicated inefficiently while pHPV31-E6ID replicated at an intermediate level. Cotransfection of the E6 mutant genomes with an E1 expression vector strongly activated their replication levels, indicating that efficient expression of E1 requires E6 internal splicing. In contrast, replication was activated only moderately with an E2 expression vector. Replacing the wt E6 intron in HPV31 with a heterologous intron from simian virus 40 (E6SR2) resulted in replication levels similar to that of the wt in the absence of expression vectors, suggesting that mRNA splicing upstream of the E1 ORF is important for high-level replication. To examine the effects of E6 intron splicing on E1 and E2 expression directly, we constructed reporter DNAs in which the luciferase coding sequences were fused in frame to the E1 (E1Luc) or E2 (E2Luc) gene. Reporter activities were then analyzed in transient assays with cotransfected E1 or E2 expression vectors. Both reporters were moderately activated by E1 in a dose-dependent manner. In addition, E1Luc was activated by low doses of E2 but was repressed at high doses. In contrast, E2 had little effect on E2Luc activity. These data indicate that E1 expression and that of E2 are interdependent and regulated differentially. When the E6 splicing mutations were analyzed in both reporter backgrounds, only E1Luc activities correlated with splicing competence in the E6 ORF. These findings support the hypothesis that the E6 intron primarily regulates expression of E1. Finally, in long-term replication assays, none of the E6 mutant genomes could be stably maintained. However, cotransfection of the E6 splicing mutant genomes with pHPV31-E7NS, which contains a nonsense mutation in the E7 coding sequence, restored stable replication of some mutants. Our observations indicate that E1 expression and that of E2 are differentially regulated at multiple levels and that efficient expression of E1 is required for transient and stable viral replication. These regulatory mechanisms likely act to control HPV copy number during the various phases of the viral life cycle.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science