PLoS pathogens 2016 4 1512(4) e1005584 doi 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005584
The HTLV-1 oncoprotein Tax plays a key role in CD4+ T cell transformation by promoting cell proliferation and survival, mainly through permanent activation of the NK-κB pathway and induction of many NF-κB target genes. Elucidating the underlying molecular mechanism is therefore critical in understanding HTLV-1-mediated transformation. Current studies have suggested multiple but controversial mechanisms regarding Tax-induced IKK activation mainly due to blending of primary Tax-induced IKK activation events and secondary IKK activation events induced by cytokines secreted by the primary Tax-induced IKK-NF-κB activation events. We reconstituted Tax-stimulated IKK activation in a cell-free system to dissect the essential cellular components for primary IKK activation by Tax and studied the underlying biochemical mechanism. We found that Tax is a putative E3 ubiquitin ligase, which, together with UbcH2, UhcH5c, or UbcH7, catalyzes the assembly of free mixed-linkage polyubiquitin chains. These free mixed-linkage polyubiquitin chains are then responsible for direct IKK activation by binding to the NEMO subunit of IKK. Our studies revealed the biochemical function of Tax in the process of IKK activation, which utilizes the minimal cellular ubiquitination components for NF-κB activation.