Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a multifunctional cytokine that regulates both humoral and cellular immune responses. Accumulating evidence suggests that the infection of T cells and other cell types with human T- lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) results in the constitutive expression of IL-6. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms are little understood. When a reporter plasmid, pIL6-CAT-E3, in which the human IL-6 enhancer/promoter region from -630 to +14 was linked to the bacterial chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene, was transfected, HTLV-1-infected but not -uninfected T-cell lines activated the IL-6 promoter. This indicated the presence of a factor transactivating the IL-6 gene in the infected cells. To evaluate the involvement of the HTLV-1-encoded transacting factor (Tax) in this transactivation, we examined the effect of transient cotransfection with the Tax-expression plasmid, pMAX-Neo, on the transcription from the IL-6 promoter by use of COS1 cells. The cotransfected COS1 has about six-times greater the CAT activity than that transfected with pIL6-CAT-E3 alone. The analysis of a series of deletions of the IL-6 promoter suggested that the region (-105/-47) containing a NF kappa B site was crucial for the Tax responsiveness. We further examined the effect of Tax on endogenous IL-6 gene expression using the Jurkat clone, JPX-9, stably transfected with pMAX-Neo. JPX-9 accumulated steady state transcripts of the endogenous IL-6 gene in response to the induction of Tax expression. Our findings indicate an important role of the Tax protein in the expression of IL-6 in cells infected with HTLV-1.

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