Human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) is a complex retrovirus that infects CD4+ T cells and causes adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL) in 3%–5% of infected individuals after a long latent period. HTLV-1 Tax is a trans
-activating protein that regulates viral gene expression and also modulates cellular signaling pathways to enhance T-cell proliferation and cell survival. The Tax oncoprotein promotes T-cell transformation, in part via constitutive activation of the NF-κB transcription factor; however, the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. Ubiquitination is a type of post-translational modification that occurs in a three-step enzymatic cascade mediated by E1, E2 and E3 enzymes and regulates protein stability as well as signal transduction, protein trafficking and the DNA damage response. Emerging studies indicate that Tax hijacks the ubiquitin machinery to activate ubiquitin-dependent kinases and downstream NF-κB signaling. Tax interacts with the E2 conjugating enzyme Ubc13 and is conjugated on C
-terminal lysine residues with lysine 63-linked polyubiquitin chains. Tax K63-linked polyubiquitination may serve as a platform for signaling complexes since this modification is critical for interactions with NEMO and IKK. In addition to NF-κB signaling, mono- and polyubiquitination of Tax also regulate its subcellular trafficking and stability. Here, we review recent advances in the diverse roles of ubiquitin in Tax function and how Tax usurps the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway to promote oncogenesis.
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