HTLV-1 Tax Stimulates Ubiquitin E3 Ligase, Ring Finger Protein 8, to Assemble Lysine 63-Linked Polyubiquitin Chains for TAK1 and IKK Activation

PLoS Pathog. 2015 Aug 18;11(8):e1005102. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005102. eCollection 2015 Aug.


Human T lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) trans-activator/oncoprotein, Tax, impacts a multitude of cellular processes, including I-κB kinase (IKK)/NF-κB signaling, DNA damage repair, and mitosis. These activities of Tax have been implicated in the development of adult T-cell leukemia (ATL) in HTLV-1-infected individuals, but the underlying mechanisms remain obscure. IKK and its upstream kinase, TGFβ-activated kinase 1 (TAK1), contain ubiquitin-binding subunits, NEMO and TAB2/3 respectively, which interact with K63-linked polyubiquitin (K63-pUb) chains. Recruitment to K63-pUb allows cross auto-phosphorylation and activation of TAK1 to occur, followed by TAK1-catalyzed IKK phosphorylation and activation. Using cytosolic extracts of HeLa and Jurkat T cells supplemented with purified proteins we have identified ubiquitin E3 ligase, ring finger protein 8 (RNF8), and E2 conjugating enzymes, Ubc13:Uev1A and Ubc13:Uev2, to be the cellular factors utilized by Tax for TAK1 and IKK activation. In vitro, the combination of Tax and RNF8 greatly stimulated TAK1, IKK, IκBα and JNK phosphorylation. In vivo, RNF8 over-expression augmented while RNF8 ablation drastically reduced canonical NF-κB activation by Tax. Activation of the non-canonical NF-κB pathway by Tax, however, is unaffected by the loss of RNF8. Using purified components, we further demonstrated biochemically that Tax greatly stimulated RNF8 and Ubc13:Uev1A/Uev2 to assemble long K63-pUb chains. Finally, co-transfection of Tax with increasing amounts of RNF8 greatly induced K63-pUb assembly in a dose-dependent manner. Thus, Tax targets RNF8 and Ubc13:Uev1A/Uev2 to promote the assembly of K63-pUb chains, which signal the activation of TAK1 and multiple downstream kinases including IKK and JNK. Because of the roles RNF8 and K63-pUb chains play in DNA damage repair and cytokinesis, this mechanism may also explain the genomic instability of HTLV-1-transformed T cells and ATL cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Gene Products, tax / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • I-kappa B Kinase / metabolism
  • Immunoblotting
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases / metabolism
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Transfection
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / metabolism


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Gene Products, tax
  • RNF8 protein, human
  • tax protein, Human T-lymphotrophic virus 1
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases
  • I-kappa B Kinase
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases
  • MAP kinase kinase kinase 7