Transformation of primary B lymphocytes by Epstein-Barr virus requires the establishment of a strictly latent infection, the expression of several latent viral proteins, and sustained telomerase activity. Our previous findings indicated that induction of hTERT, the rate-limiting catalytic unit of the telomerase complex, was associated with the expression of the viral latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1). In the present study, we demonstrate that ectopic expression of LMP1 in BJAB and Ramos B cells resulted in an increase of hTERT transcripts, thus suggesting that LMP1 acts at the transcriptional level. This was confirmed by transient expression of a luciferase reporter plasmid containing the hTERT promoter cotransfected with an LMP1-expressing vector or transfected into B cells in which LMP1 expression was inducible. Consistently, silencing of LMP1 by small interfering RNA resulted in a reduction of hTERT transcripts. We also provide evidence indicating that LMP1-induced hTERT activation is independently mediated by NF-κB and by mitogen-activated protein kinase and extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 pathways, whereas CD40, Akt, and mTOR signaling has no involvement. Moreover, our results do not support a role for c-Myc in mediating these effects on hTERT, since ectopic expression of LMP1 did not upregulate c-Myc and silencing of this oncogene or E box mutagenesis failed to inhibit LMP1-induced hTERT activation. These findings indicate that LMP1 simultaneously modulates multiple signal transduction pathways in B cells to transactivate the hTERT promoter and enhance telomerase activity, thus confirming the pleiotropic nature of this viral oncoprotein.
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