Human hepatitis B virus (HBV) X-gene, previously shown to be capable of trans-activating heterologous regulatory elements of the human β-interferon gene, the human immunodeficiency virus type I (HIV-1) long terminal repeat (LTR), the simian virus 40 (SV40), and HBV, has the capacity to code for a 17-kDa polypeptide (designated pX17). We now report that pX17 synthesized in Escherichia coli can activate transcription controlled by the HIV-1 LTR using a protoplast fusion technique. Protoplasts of E. coli-containing presynthesized X-protein were fused with lymphocytic H938 cells harboring an integrated copy of a plasmid with the CAT gene under control of the HIV-1 LTR (HIV-1 LTR CAT) and a marked increase in the steady state expression of the CAT mRNA was observed. When the same fused cells were treated with the protein synthesis inhibitor cyclohexamide, the pX17-dependent activation of the HIV-1 LTR was abolished. This result indicates that the X-protein expressed in E. coli is biologically active and suggests that the HBV X-protein-mediated trans-activation of the HIV-1 LTR in this system requires de novo cellular protein synthesis.
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