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Abstract

Hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) is a transcriptional coactivator that plays a significant role in the regulation of genes involved in inflammation and cell survival. A recently identified cellular coactivator, activating signal cointegrator 2 (ASC-2), is enriched in liver cancer cells and associates with many transcription factors that are active in hepatocytes. The tissue colocalization of these 2 proteins, in view of their similar regulatory functions, led us to examine whether HBx and ASC-2 cooperate in transcriptional activation of gene expression. Glutathione S-transferase (GST) pull-down assays and mammalian 2-hybrid analysis show that the transactivation domain of HBx interacts with the C-terminal domain of ASC-2. In fact, these 2 proteins associated in a ternary complex that included the transcriptional activator retinoid X receptor (RXR). Mechanistically, on expression of HBx, the half-life of the ASC-2 coactivator is observed to increase in concordance with the observed increase in ASC-2-dependent coactivation of transcription. In conclusion, these results show that HBx stabilizes the cellular coactivator ASC-2 through direct protein-protein interaction, affecting the regulation of genes actively transcribed in liver cancer cells.