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Genes Dev. 1992 Sep;6(9):1783-98.

Human myocyte-specific enhancer factor 2 comprises a group of tissue-restricted MADS box transcription factors.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.


The MEF2 site is an essential element of muscle enhancers and promoters that is bound by a nuclear activity found, so far, only in muscle and required for tissue-specific transcription. We have cloned a group of transcription factors from human muscle that are responsible for this activity: They are present in muscle-specific DNA-binding complexes, have a target sequence specificity identical to that of the endogenous activity, and are MEF2 site-dependent transcriptional activators. These MEF2 proteins comprise several alternatively spliced isoforms from one gene and a related factor encoded by a second gene. All share a conserved amino-terminal DNA-binding domain that includes the MADS homology. MEF2 transcripts are ubiquitous but accumulate preferentially in skeletal muscle, heart, and brain. Specific alternatively spliced isoforms are restricted to these tissues, correlating exactly with the presence of endogenous MEF2 activity. Furthermore, MEF2 protein is detected only in skeletal and cardiac muscle nuclei and not in myoblast and nonmuscle cells. Thus, post-transcriptional regulation is important in the generation of tissue-specific MEF2 activity. Cardiac and smooth, as well as skeletal, muscles contain functionally saturating levels of MEF2 trans-activating factors that are absent in nonmuscle cells. Moreover, MEF2 is induced in nonmuscle cells by MyoD; however, MEF2 alone is insufficient to produce the full muscle phenotype. Implications for the molecular mechanisms of myogenesis are considered.

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