Nuclear proteins induced by interferon (IFN) treatment of human cells are capable of forming two specific complexes with DNA fragments containing the IFN-stimulated response element (ISRE). These two complexes, designated B2 and B3, are distinguished by differential migration in gel retardation assays. The factor that forms the B3 complex, termed IFN-stimulated gene factor 3 (ISGF-3), preexists in cells, is activated upon IFN treatment, and appears with kinetics paralleling those for transcriptional activation of IFN-stimulated genes. The factor that forms the B2 complex (ISGF-2) appears following a time lag after IFN treatment during which protein synthesis must occur. By extensive point mutagenesis of the ISREs from two IFN-stimulated promoters (ISG54 and ISG15), we demonstrate that the B2 and B3 complexes are formed by factors binding to the same DNA sequence. Mutations at this site decrease or eliminate transcriptional activation and impair binding of both ISGF-2 and ISGF-3. This analysis has shown that the ISGF-3 binding site is slightly broader than the ISGF-2 binding site, which is completely contained within the sequence necessary both for ISGF-3 binding and for transcriptional activation. The evidence strongly implicates ISGF-3 as the positive transcriptional regulator of IFN-stimulated genes
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