Adult T-cell leukemia (ATL) is an aggressive T-cell malignancy caused by human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1). We recently reported that abacavir, an anti-HIV-1 drug, potently and selectively kills ATL cells. This effect was attributed to the reduced expression of tyrosyl-DNA-phosphodiesterase 1 (TDP1), a DNA repair enzyme, in ATL cells. However, the molecular mechanism underlying the downregulation of TDP1 in ATL cells remains elusive. Here we identified the core promoter of the TDP1 gene, which contains a conserved nuclear respiratory factor 1 (NRF-1) binding site. Overexpression of NRF-1 increased TDP1-promoter activity, whereas the introduction of dominant-negative NRF-1 repressed such activity. Overexpression of NRF-1 also upregulated endogenous TDP-1 expression, while introduction of shNRF-1 suppressed TDP1 in Jurkat T cells, making them susceptible to abacavir. These results indicate that NRF-1 is a positive transcriptional regulator of TDP1-gene expression. Importantly, we revealed that HTLV-1 bZIP factor (HBZ) protein which is expressed in all ATL cases physically interacts with NRF-1 and inhibits the DNA-binding ability of NRF-1. Taken together, HBZ suppresses TDP1 expression by inhibiting NRF-1 function in ATL cells. The HBZ/NRF-1/TDP1 axis provides new therapeutic targets against ATL and might explain genomic instability leading to the pathogenesis of ATL.
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