Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is classified into subtypes on the basis of phylogenetic analysis of sequence differences. Inter- and intra-subtype polymorphism extends throughout the genome, including the long terminal repeat (LTR). In this study, the importance of the upstream stimulating factor (USF)-binding site (E-box) in the core-negative regulatory element (NRE) of the LTR of HIV-1 subtypes A, B, C, D, E and G was investigated. In vivo, USF was found to repress transcription directed from representative HIV-1 LTR sequences of all the subtypes tested in an epithelial cell line, yet activate the same transcription in a T-cell line. Mutation of the core-NRE USF site of the representative subtype BLTR did not affect the cell-specific, subtype-independent, dual role of USF. In vitro binding assays showed that recombinant USF43 interacts with the core-NRE from subtypes B and C, but not A, D, E or G. Thus, USF affects LTR-directed transcription in a cell-specific manner, independently of both the HIV-1 subtype from which the LTR was derived and the core-NRE USF site sequences.
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