Analysis of transcriptional activities of the Meq proteins present in highly virulent Marek’s disease virus strains, RB1B and Md5
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Marek’s disease virus (MDV) is an oncogenic herpesvirus that causes malignant lymphomas in chickens. Recent field isolates of MDV have tended to exhibit increasing virulence, and MDV strains are currently classified into four categories based on their relative virulence. Meq, a putative MDV oncoprotein, resembles the Jun/Fos family of basic leucine zipper (bZIP) transcription factors and can regulate the expression of viral and cellular genes as a homodimer or as a heterodimer with a variety of bZIP family proteins. MDV isolates display distinct diversity and point mutations in Meq, which may contribute to changes in the transcriptional activities of Meq and subsequently, to observed increases in MDV oncogenicity. In this study, we introduced mutations into the meq gene and used dual luciferase reporter assays to analyze the transcriptional activities of the resulting Meq proteins to determine whether distinct mutations in Meq could be responsible for differences in transcriptional activity among MDV strains. A proline-to-alanine substitution at position 217, the second position of one of the proline direct repeats in the transactivation domain, enhanced the transactivation activity of Meq. In addition, we found that two substitutions at positions 283 and 320 affected transactivation activity. These results suggest that the distinct diversity of and point mutations in the Meq proteins are responsible for differences in transactivation activity among MDV strains.