Natural occurring mutations in the preS-region are frequently found during chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Here we used the mutated preS-region from a patient to study the transcriptional regulation of the S-promoter. The mutations were a CCAAT-box (MUT1) point mutation, a 6-base pair (bp) deletion (MUT2) 3′ of the CCAAT-box, and a 153 bp deletion (MUT3) in the preS2 genome. Transfection experiments revealed for MUT1 and 2 30% to 40% and MUT3 75% of the wildtype (wt) S-promoter activity. In electro-mobility shift assays experiments, binding of a nuclear protein was impaired with MUT1. Ultraviolet cross-linking, South-Western, and gel shift experiments revealed a 30- to 40-kd protein interacting with the wt CCAAT-motif. Computer-assisted analysis and supershift experiments showed that CCAAT-binding factor (CBF) is the CCAAT-box binding protein. Cotransfection experiments with expression vectors for dominant-negative CBF or wt CBF showed that the wt S-promoter but not MUT1 could be regulated through CBF. Additionally, the CBF constructs did not modulate the basal activity of MUT2 but changes the activity of MUT3 like wt HBV. Artificial mutations were introduced in the MUT2 reporter constructs. Transfection experiments revealed that wt promoter activity could not be reconstituted. Therefore these experiments indicated the sterical position of CBF being essential for full S-promoter activity. Our study shows that the CCAAT-box and a second region is essential to mediate full S-promoter activity dependent on CBF. As these mutations also lead to retention of S-protein in the endoplasmic reticulum our results indicate that mutational changes in the preS-region might be linked to the progression of HBV-related liver disease
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