BACKGROUND: Despite the large amount of data available on the molecular mechanisms that regulate HIV-1 transcription, crucial information is still lacking about the interplay between chromatin conformation and the events that regulate initiation and elongation of viral transcription. During transcriptional activation, histone acetyltransferases and ATP-dependent chromatin remodeling complexes cooperate with histone chaperones in altering chromatin structure. In particular, human Nucleosome Assembly Protein-1 (hNAP-1) is known to act as a histone chaperone that shuttles histones H2A/H2B into the nucleus, assembles nucleosomes and promotes chromatin fluidity, thereby affecting transcription of several cellular genes. RESULTS: Using a proteomic screening, we identified hNAP-1 as a novel cellular protein interacting with HIV-1 Tat. We observed that Tat specifically binds hNAP1, but not other members of the same family of factors. Binding between the two proteins required the integrity of the basic domain of Tat and of two separable domains of hNAP-1 (aa 162-290 and 290-391). Overexpression of hNAP-1 significantly enhanced Tat-mediated activation of the LTR. Conversely, silencing of the protein decreased viral promoter activity. To explore the effects of hNAP-1 on viral infection, a reporter HIV-1 virus was used to infect cells in which hNAP-1 had been either overexpressed or knocked-down. Consistent with the gene expression results, these two treatments were found to increase and inhibit viral infection, respectively. Finally, we also observed that the overexpression of p300, a known co-activator of both Tat and hNAP-1, enhanced hNAP-1-mediated transcriptional activation as well as its interaction with Tat. CONCLUSION: Our study reveals that HIV-1 Tat binds the histone chaperone hNAP-1 both in vitro and in vivo and shows that this interaction participates in the regulation of Tat-mediated activation of viral gene expression.
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