Merkel Cell Polyomavirus Tumor Antigens Expressed in Merkel Cell Carcinoma Function Independently of the Ubiquitin Ligases Fbw7 and β-TrCP
Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) accounts for 80% of all Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) cases through expression of two viral oncoproteins: the truncated large T antigen (LT-t) and small T antigen (ST). MCPyV ST is thought to be the main driver of cellular transformation and has also been shown to increase LT protein levels through the activity of its Large-T Stabilization Domain (LSD). The ST LSD was reported to bind and sequester several ubiquitin ligases, including Fbw7 and β-TrCP, and thereby stabilize LT-t and several other Fbw7 targets including c-Myc and cyclin E. Therefore, the ST LSD is thought to contribute to transformation by promoting the accumulation of these oncoproteins. Targets of Fbw7 and β-TrCP contain well-defined, conserved, phospho-degrons. However, as neither MCPyV LT, LT-t nor ST contain the canonical Fbw7 phospho-degron, we sought to further investigate the proposed model of ST stabilization of LT-t and transformation. In this study, we provide several lines of evidence that fail to support a specific interaction between MCPyV T antigens and Fbw7 or β-TrCP by co-immunoprecipitation or functional consequence. Although MCPyV ST does indeed increase LT protein levels through its Large-T Stabilization domain (LSD), this is accomplished independently of Fbw7. Therefore, our study indicates a need for further investigation into the role and mechanism(s) of MCPyV T antigens in viral replication, latency, transformation, and tumorigenesis.