Bovine leukemia virus (BLV) is a deltaretrovirus infecting bovine B cells and causing enzootic bovine leucosis (EBL). The long terminal repeat (LTR) plays an indispensable role in viral gene expression. The BLV Tax protein acts as the main transactivator of LTR-driven transcription of BLV viral genes. The aim of this study was to analyze mutations in the BLV LTR region and tax gene to determine their association with transcriptional activity. LTRs were obtained from one hundred and six BLV isolates and analyzed for their genetic variability. Fifteen variants were selected and characterized based on mutations in LTR regulatory elements, and further used for in vitro transcription assays. Reporter vectors containing the luciferase gene under the control of each variant BLV promoter sequence, in addition to variant Tax expression vectors, were constructed. Both types of plasmids were used for cotransfection of HeLa cells and the level of luciferase activity was measured as a proxy of transcriptional activity. Marked differences in LTR promoter activity and Tax transactivation activity were observed amongst BLV variants. These results demonstrate that mutations in both the BLV LTR and tax gene can affect the promoter activity, which may have important consequences on proviral load, viral fitness, and transmissibility in BLV-infected cattle.
Keywords: retrovirus, bovine leukemia virus (BLV), long terminal repeat (LTR), Tax protein, transactivation, transcription factor, proviral load, sequence variants, primary isolates.