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Pigment Cell Res. 2003 Jun;16(3):261-5.

Microphthalmia-associated transcription factor in the Wnt signaling pathway.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Tohoku University School of Medicine, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan.


Microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF) contains a basic helix-loop-helix and leucine-zipper (bHLH-LZ) structure and consists of many isoforms with different N-termini. Melanocyte-specific MITF isoform (MITF-M) is of particular interest, because a heterozygous mutation in the MITF gene is associated with Waardenburg syndrome type 2 (WS2) that is characterized by deafness and hypopigmentation because of lack of melanocytes in the inner ear and skin. Expression of MITF-M is under the regulation of the melanocyte-specific promoter (M promoter) of the MITF gene, and transcription from the M promoter is induced by Wnt signals through a nuclear mediator, lymphoid-enhancing factor 1 (LEF-1). In addition, functional cooperation of MITF-M with LEF-1 could lead to transcriptional activation of the M promoter and the dopachrome tautomerase (DCT) gene, an early melanoblast marker. The bHLH-LZ region of MITF-M is responsible for the physical interaction with LEF-1, and beta-catenin is required for the collaboration between LEF-1 and MITF-M. Importantly, MITF-M could function as a non-DNA-binding co-factor for LEF-1. These results suggest that MITF-M may function as a self-regulator of its own expression to maintain a threshold level of MITF-M at a certain sensitive stage of melanocyte development, which could account for the dominant inheritance of WS2. MITF-M therefore plays dual roles in the Wnt signaling pathway; MITF-M represents a downstream target and a nuclear mediator of Wnt signals in melanocytes.

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