IkappaB kinase (IKK) is a key mediator of NF-kappaB activation induced by various immunological signals. In T cells and most other cell types, the primary target of IKK is a labile inhibitor of NF-kappaB, IkappaBalpha, which is responsible for the canonical NF-kappaB activation. Here, we show that in T cells infected with the human T-cell leukemia virus (HTLV), IKKalpha is targeted to a novel signaling pathway that mediates processing of the nfkappab2 precursor protein p100, resulting in active production of the NF-kappaB subunit, p52. This pathogenic action is mediated by the HTLV-encoded oncoprotein Tax, which appears to act by physically recruiting IKKalpha to p100, triggering phosphorylation-dependent ubiquitylation and processing of p100. These findings suggest a novel mechanism by which Tax modulates the NF-kappaB signaling pathway.
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