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J Biol Chem. 1994 Mar 25;269(12):8892-900.

Transcriptional regulation of the human Wilms' tumor gene (WT1). Cell type-specific enhancer and promiscuous promoter.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston 77030.


The Wilms' tumor gene, WT1, is expressed in few tissues, mainly the developing kidney, genitourinary system, and mesothelium, and in immature hematopoietic cells. To develop an understanding of the role of WT1 in development and tumorigenesis, we have identified transcriptional regulatory elements that function in transient reporter gene constructs transfected into kidney and hematopoietic cell lines. We found three transcription start sites of the WT1 gene and have identified an essential promoter region by deletion analysis. The WT1 promoter is a member of the GC-rich, TATA-less, and CCAAT-less class of polymerase II promoters. Whereas the WT1 promoter is similar to other tumor suppressor gene promoters, the WT1 expression pattern (unlike Rb and p53) is tissue-restricted. The WT1 GC-rich promoter is promiscuous, functioning in all cell lines tested, independent of WT1 expression. This finding suggests that the promoter is not tissue-specific, but that tissue-specific expression of WT1 is modulated by additional regulatory elements. Indeed, we have identified a transcriptional enhancer located 3' of the WT1 gene > 50 kilobases downstream from the promoter. This orientation-independent enhancer increases the basal transcription rate of the WT1 promoter in the human erythroleukemia cell line K562, but not in any of the other cell lines tested.

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