The papillomavirus life cycle is closely linked to the differentiation program of the host keratinocyte. Thus, late gene expression and viral maturation are restricted to terminally differentiated keratinocytes. A variety of cellular transcription factors including those of the C/EBP family are involved in the regulation of keratinocyte differentiation. In this study we show that the papillomavirus transcription factor E2 cooperates with C/EBPalpha and -beta in transcriptional activation. This synergism was independent of an E2 binding site. E2 and C/EBP factors synergistically transactivated a synthetic promoter construct containing classical C/EBPbeta sites and the C/EBPalpha-responsive proximal promoter of the involucrin gene, which is naturally expressed in differentiating keratinocytes. C/EBPalpha or -beta coprecipitated with E2 proteins derived from human papillomavirus type 8 (HPV8), HPV16, HPV18, and bovine papillomavirus type 1 in vitro and in vivo, indicating complex formation by the cellular and viral factors. The interaction domains could be mapped to the C terminus of E2 and amino acids 261 to 302 located within the bZIP motif of C/EBPbeta. Our data suggest that E2, via its interaction with C/EBP factors, may contribute to enhancing keratinocyte differentiation, which is suppressed by the viral oncoproteins E6 and E7 in HPV-induced lesions.
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