When transcriptionally active, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) promoter contains a nucleosome-free region encompassing both the promoter/enhancer region and a large region (255 nucleotides [nt]) downstream of the transcription start site. We have previously identified new binding sites for transcription factors downstream of the transcription start site (nt 465 to 720): three AP-1 sites (I, II, and III), an AP3-like motif (AP3-L), a downstream binding factor (DBF) site, and juxtaposed Sp1 sites. Here, we show that the DBF site is an interferon-responsive factor (IRF) binding site and that the AP3-L motif binds the T-cell-specific factor NF-AT. Mutations that abolish the binding of each factor to its cognate site are introduced in an infectious HIV-1 molecular clone to study their effect on HIV-1 transcription and replication. Individual mutation of the DBF or AP3-L site as well as the double mutation AP-1(III)/AP3-L did not affect HIV-1 replication compared to that of the wild-type virus. In contrast, proviruses carrying mutations in the Sp1 sites were totally defective in terms of replication. Virus production occurred with slightly delayed kinetics for viruses containing combined mutations in the AP-1(III), AP3-L, and DBF sites and in the AP3-L and DBF-sites, whereas viruses mutated in the AP-1(I,II,III) and AP3-L sites and in the AP-1(I,II,III), AP3-L, and DBF sites exhibited a severely defective replicative phenotype. No RNA-packaging defect could be measured for any of the mutant viruses as determined by quantification of their HIV genomic RNA. Measurement of the transcriptional activity of the HIV-1 promoter after transient transfection of the HIV-1 provirus DNA or of long terminal repeat-luciferase constructs showed a positive correlation between the transcriptional and the replication defects for most mutants.
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