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It is not understood how the human T cell leukemia virus human T-lymphotropic virus-1 (HTLV-1), a retrovirus, regulates the in vivo balance between transcriptional latency and reactivation. The HTLV-1 proviral plus-strand is typically transcriptionally silent in freshly isolated peripheral blood mononuclear cells from infected individuals, but after short-term ex vivo culture, there is a strong, spontaneous burst of proviral plus-strand transcription. Here, we demonstrate that proviral reactivation in freshly isolated, naturally infected primary CD4+ T cells has 3 key attributes characteristic of an immediate-early gene. Plus-strand transcription is p38-MAPK dependent and is not inhibited by protein synthesis inhibitors. Ubiquitylation of histone H2A (H2AK119ub1), a signature of polycomb repressive complex-1 (PRC1), is enriched at the latent HTLV-1 provirus, and immediate-early proviral reactivation is associated with rapid deubiquitylation of H2A at the provirus. Inhibition of deubiquitylation by the deubiquitinase (DUB) inhibitor PR619 reverses H2AK119ub1 depletion and strongly inhibits plus-strand transcription. We conclude that the HTLV-1 proviral plus-strand is regulated with characteristics of a cellular immediate-early gene, with a PRC1-dependent bivalent promoter sensitive to p38-MAPK signaling. Finally, we compare the epigenetic signatures of p38-MAPK inhibition, DUB inhibition, and glucose deprivation at the HTLV-1 provirus, and we show that these pathways act as independent checkpoints regulating proviral reactivation from latency.

Original publication




Journal article


JCI Insight

Publication Date





Cell stress, Epigenetics, Transcription, Virology