The BRRF1 early gene of Epstein-Barr virus encodes a transcription factor that enhances induction of lytic infection by BRLF1.
The switch from the latent to the lytic form of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection is mediated by expression of the viral immediate-early (IE) proteins, BZLF1 (Z) and BRLF1 (R). An EBV early protein, BRRF1 (Na), is encoded by the opposite strand of the BRLF1 intron, but the function of this nuclear protein in the viral life cycle is unknown. Here we demonstrate that Na enhances the R-mediated induction of lytic EBV infection in 293 cells latently infected with a recombinant EBV (R-KO) defective for the expression of both R and Na. Na also enhances R-induced lytic infections in a gastric carcinoma line (AGS) carrying the R-KO virus, although it has no effect in a Burkitt lymphoma line (BL-30) stably infected with the same mutant virus. We show that Na is a transcription factor that increases the ability of R to activate Z expression from the R-KO viral genome in 293 cells and that Na by itself activates the Z promoter (Zp) in EBV-negative cells. Na activation of Zp requires a CRE motif (ZII), and a consensus CRE motif is sufficient to transfer Na responsiveness to the heterologous E1b promoter. Furthermore, we show that Na enhances the transactivator function of a Gal4-c-Jun fusion protein but does not increase the transactivator function of other transcription factors (including ATF-1, ATF-2, and CREB) known to bind CRE motifs. Na expression in cells results in increased levels of a hyperphosphorylated form of c-Jun, suggesting a mechanism by which Na activates c-Jun. Our results indicate that Na is a transcription factor that activates the EBV Zp IE promoter through its effects on c-Jun and suggest that Na cooperates with BRLF1 to induce the lytic form of EBV infection in certain cell types.