We have examined the roles of AP-1, AP-3-like, DBF1, and Sp1 binding sites, which are located downstream of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) promoter, in regulating basal transcriptional activity directed by the integrated viral long terminal repeat (LTR). Point mutations affecting all four of these elements functionally inactivated the HIV-1 LTR when it was constrained in a chromatin configuration. Analyses of the chromatin structures of the transcriptionally active wild-type and inactive mutated HIV-1 promoters revealed several differences. In the active promoter, the 3' half of the U3 region, including the basal promoter, the enhancer, and the putative upstream regulatory sequences are situated within a nuclease-hypersensitive region. However, the far upstream U3 region appears to be packaged into a nuclease-resistant nucleosomal structure, whereas the R, U5, and gag leader sequences are associated with a region of altered chromatin that is sensitive to restriction endonucleases. In the inactive template, only the basal promoter and enhancer element remain sensitive to nucleases, and the adjacent upstream and downstream regions are incorporated into nuclease-resistant nucleosomal structures. Taken together, these results indicate that the chromatin structure of the integrated HIV-1 LTR plays a critical role in modulating basal transcriptional activity.
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