Viral infection of mammalian cells entails the regulated induction of viral gene expression. The induction of many viral genes, including the herpes simplex virus gene encoding thymidine kinase (tk), depends on viral regulatory proteins that act in trans. Because recognition of the tk promoter by cellular transcription factors is well understood, its trans induction by viral regulatory proteins may serve as a useful model for the regulation of eukaryotic gene expression. A comprehensive set of mutations was therefore introduced into the chromosome of herpes simplex virus at the tk promoter to directly analyze the effects of promoter mutations on tk transcription. The promoter domains required for efficient tk expression under conditions of trans induction corresponded to those important for recognition by cellular transcription factors. Thus, trans induction of tk expression may be catalyzed initially by the interaction of viral regulatory proteins with cellular transcription factors.
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