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Biol Reprod. 1991 Feb;44(2):231-7.

Different combinations of regulatory elements may explain why placenta-specific expression of the glycoprotein hormone alpha-subunit gene occurs only in primates and horses.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio 44106.


Expression of the glycoprotein hormone alpha-subunit gene occurs in the pituitary of all mammals but in placenta of only primates and horses. In humans, two different elements, termed upstream regulatory element (URE) and cAMP response element (CRE), are required for placenta-specific expression of the alpha-subunit gene. The URE binds a protein unique to placenta whereas the CRE binds a ubiquitous protein. Comparative analysis of the promoter-regulatory region of the alpha-subunit gene from a number of mammals indicates that a functional URE has been retained and suggests the potential for placenta-specific expression. Indirect evidence also indicates that the URE-binding protein has been conserved, even in placenta from mammals that fail to express the alpha-subunit gene. Lack of expression of the alpha-subunit gene in placenta of rodents and cattle can be traced to a single nucleotide change that renders the CRE-like sequence of these genes incapable of binding the protein that confers responsiveness to cAMP. In contrast, although expression of the alpha-subunit gene occurs in horse placenta, the promoter-regulatory region lacks a functional CRE but appears to retain a functional URE. This suggests that either a different accessory element and cognate protein interacts with the horse URE to provide placenta-specific expression or that a completely different set of regulatory elements is required for placenta-specific expression in horses.

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