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Mol Cell Biol. Aug 1996; 16(8): 4512–4523.
PMCID: PMC231450

An 18-base-pair sequence in the mouse proalpha1(II) collagen gene is sufficient for expression in cartilage and binds nuclear proteins that are selectively expressed in chondrocytes.


The molecular mechanisms by which mesenchymal cells differentiate into chondrocytes are still poorly understood. We have used the gene for a chondrocyte marker, the proalpha1(II) collagen gene (Col2a1), as a model to delineate a minimal sequence needed for chondrocyte expression and identify chondrocyte-specific proteins binding to this sequence. We previously localized a cartilage-specific enhancer to 156 bp of the mouse Col2a1 intron 1. We show here that four copies of a 48-bp subsegment strongly increased promoter activity in transiently transfected rat chondrosarcoma (RCS) cells and mouse primary chondrocytes but not in 10T1/2 fibroblasts. They also directed cartilage specificity in transgenic mouse embryos. These 48 bp include two 11-bp inverted repeats with only one mismatch. Tandem copies of an 18-bp element containing the 3' repeat strongly enhanced promoter activity in RCS cells and chondrocytes but not in fibroblasts. Transgenic mice harboring 12 copies of this 18-mer expressed luciferase in ribs and vertebrae and in isolated chondrocytes but not in noncartilaginous tissues except skin and brain. In gel retardation assays, an RCS cell-specific protein and another closely related protein expressed only in RCS cells and primary chondrocytes bound to a 10-bp sequence within the 18-mer. Mutations in these 10 bp abolished activity of the multimerized 18-bp enhancer, and deletion of these 10 bp abolished enhancer activity of 465- and 231-bp intron 1 segments. This sequence contains a low-affinity binding site for POU domain proteins, and competition experiments with a high-affinity POU domain binding site strongly suggested that the chondrocyte proteins belong to this family. Together, our results indicate that an 18-bp sequence in Col2a1 intron 1 controls chondrocyte expression and suggest that RCS cells and chondrocytes contain specific POU domain proteins involved in enhancer activity.

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Selected References

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