Marek's disease virus (MDV) is one of the most oncogenic herpesviruses and induces T lymphomas in chickens within weeks after infection. Only a limited number of viral transcripts are detected in MDV tumor samples and cell lines. One of the major transcripts encodes MEQ, a 339-amino-acid bZIP protein which is homologous to the Jun/Fos family of transcription factors. The C-terminal half of MEQ contains proline-rich repeats and, when fused to the DNA-binding domain of a yeast transcription factor, Gal4 (residues 1 to 147), exhibits transactivation function. MEQ can dimerize with itself and with c-Jun. The MEQ-c-Jun heterodimers bind to an AP-1-like enhancer within the MEQ promoter region with greater affinity than do homodimers of either protein, and they transactivate MEQ expression. Here we show that MEQ is expressed in the nucleus but, interestingly, with a predominant fraction in the nucleoli and coiled bodies. This makes MEQ the first bZIP protein to be identified in the nucleoli. MEQ contains two stretches of basic residues, designated basic region 1 (BR1) and basic region 2 (BR2). Using a series of deletion mutants, we have mapped the primary nuclear localization signal (NLS) and the sole nucleolar localization signal (NoLS) to the BR2 region. BR1 was shown to provide an auxiliary signal in nuclear translocation. To demonstrate that BR2 is an authentic NoLS, BR2 was fused to cytoplasmic v- Raf (Δgag) kinase. The BR2-Raf fusion protein was observed to migrate into the nucleoplasm and the nucleolus. The BR2 region can be further divided into two long arginine-lysine stretches, BR2N and BR2C, which are separated by the five amino acids Asn-Arg-Asp-Ala-Ala (NRDAA). We provide evidence that the requirement for nuclear translocation is less stringent than that for nucleolar translocation, as either BR2N or BR2C alone is sufficient to translocate the cytoplasmic v-Raf (Δgag) into the nucleus, but only in combination can they translocate v-Raf (Δgag) into the nucleolus. Our studies demonstrate that MEQ is hath a nuclear and nucleolar protein, adding MEQ to the growing list of transactivators which localize to the nucleolus.
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