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J Biol Chem. 2001 Mar 30;276(13):10016-24. Epub 2000 Dec 11.

A role for the homeobox protein Distal-less 3 in the activation of the glycoprotein hormone alpha subunit gene in choriocarcinoma cells.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


Synthesis and secretion of chorionic gonadotropin in trophoblast cells of the placenta is required for establishment of early pregnancy in primates. Chorionic gonadotropin is a heterodimeric glycoprotein hormone consisting of alpha and beta subunits. Regulation of the alpha subunit gene within the placenta requires an array of cis elements within the 5'-flanking region of the promoter. Within this array of elements, the junctional regulatory element (JRE) putatively binds a placental-specific transcription factor. The aim of our studies was to determine the identity and role of the transcriptional regulator that binds to the JRE in choriocarcinoma cells (JEG3 cells). Mutations within the JRE resulted in reduction in basal expression of an alpha subunit reporter gene, suggesting that the JRE binding factor was necessary for full basal activity. Using electrophoretic mobility shift assays, we determined that the JRE was capable of serving as a homeobox factor-binding site. The homeobox factor, Distal-less 3 (Dlx 3) was found to be expressed in JEG3 cells and in the trophoblast layer of human chorionic villus but not in a gonadotrope cell line that also expresses the alpha subunit gene. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays revealed that recombinant Dlx 3 could bind specifically to the JRE and endogenous Dlx 3 was present in JRE/JEG3 nuclear protein complexes. Overexpression of Dlx 3 resulted in activation of an alpha subunit reporter gene. A JRE mutation resulted in attenuated activation of the alpha subunit reporter via an adjacent cis element, suggesting that JRE/Dlx 3 interactions may facilitate regulation of the alpha subunit gene at sites immediately upstream of the JRE. Our studies support the conclusion that Dlx 3 is a placental-specific transcriptional regulator that binds to the JRE and contributes to expression of the alpha subunit gene in cells of trophoblast origin.

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