Expression of the human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) Tax oncoprotein rapidily induces a significant increase of micronuclei (MN) and unstabilized DNA breaks in cells. Unstabilized DNA breaks can have free 3′-OH ends accessible to in situ addition of digoxygenin (DIG)-labeled dUTP using terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase. In the present work, we used a GFP-Tax (green fluorescent protein) plasmid, which produces a functionally active GFP-tagged Tax protein, to detect the cellular target(s) for Tax which might mechanistically explain the clastogenic phenomenon. We examined the induction of MN and unstabilized DNA breaks in wild type cells and cells individually knocked out for Ku80, PKcs, XRCC4, and H2AX proteins. We also assessed in the same cells, the signal strengths produced by DIG-dUTP incorporation at the unstable DNA breaks in the presence and absence of Tax.
Cells mutated for PKcs, XRCC4 and H2AX showed increased frequency of MN and unstabilized DNA breaks in response to the expression of Tax, while cells genetically mutated for Ku80 were refractory to Tax’s induction of these cytogenetic effects. Moreover, by measuring the size of DIG-dUTP incorporation signal, which indicates the extent of unstable DNA ends, we found that Tax induces larger signals than those in control cells. However, in xrs-6 cells deficient for Ku80, this Tax effect was not seen.
The data here demonstrate that clastogenic DNA damage in Tax expressing cells is explained by Tax targeting of Ku80, but not PKcs, XRCC4 or H2AX, which are all proteins directly or indirectly related to the non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) repair system. Of note, the Ku80 protein plays an important role at the initial stage of the NHEJ repair system, protecting and stabilizing DNA-breaks. Accordingly, HTLV-1 Tax is shown to interfere with a normal cellular protective mechanism for stabilizing DNA breaks. These DNA breaks, unprotected by Ku80, are unstable and are subject to erosion or end-to-end fusion, ultimately leading to additional chromosomal aberrations.
Keywords: HTLV-1, Tax, Ku80, PKcs, XRCC4, H2AX, DNA damage