Transcriptional regulation of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is a complex event that requires the cooperative action of both viral (<i>e</i>.<i>g</i>. Tat) and cellular (<i>e</i>.<i>g</i>. C/EBP<i>β</i>, NF-<i>κ</i>B) factors. The HIV-1 Tat protein recruits the human positive transcription elongation factor P-TEFb, consisting of cdk9 and cyclin T1, to the HIV-1 transactivation response (TAR) region. In the absence of TAR, Tat activates the HIV-1 long terminal repeat (LTR) through its association with several cellular factors including C/EBP<i>β</i>. C/EBP<i>β</i> is a member of the CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein family of transcription factors and has been shown to be a critical transcriptional regulator of HIV-1 LTR. We examined whether Tat–C/EBP<i>β</i> association requires the presence of the P-TEFb complex. Using immunoprecipitation followed by Western blot, we demonstrated that C/EBP<i>β</i>–cyclin T1 association requires the presence of cdk9. Further, due to its instability, cdk9 was unable to physically interact with C/EBP<i>β</i> in the absence of cyclin T1 or Tat. Using kinase assays, we demonstrated that cdk9, but not a cdk9 dominant-negative mutant (cdk9-dn), phosphorylates C/EBP<i>β</i>. Our functional data show that co-transfection of C/EBP<i>β</i> and cdk9 leads to an increase in HIV-1 gene expression when compared to C/EBP<i>β</i> alone. Addition of C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP) inhibits C/EBP<i>β</i> transcriptional activity in the presence and absence of cdk9 and causes a delay in HIV-1 replication in T-cells. Together, our data suggest that Tat–C/EBP<i>β</i> association is mediated through cdk9, and that phosphorylated C/EBP<i>β</i> may influence AIDS progression by increasing expression of HIV-1 genes
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