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Mol Endocrinol. 2004 Jun;18(6):1363-75. Epub 2004 Mar 31.

The transcriptional repressor Nkx6.1 also functions as a deoxyribonucleic acid context-dependent transcriptional activator during pancreatic beta-cell differentiation: evidence for feedback activation of the nkx6.1 gene by Nkx6.1.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903, USA.


In the pancreas, the NK homeodomain transcription factor Nkx6.1 is required for the development of beta-cells and is believed to function as a potent repressor of transcription upon binding to A/T-rich sequences within the promoter region of target genes. Because the nkx6.1 promoter itself contains several such sequences, we considered the possibility that the expression level and restricted pattern of the nkx6.1 gene might be precisely regulated by one or more homeodomain transcription factors, including Nkx6.1 itself. In this report, we identify a novel beta-cell-specific enhancer element in the nkx6.1 gene between -157 and -30 bp (relative to the transcriptional start site) that harbors a conserved A/T-containing sequence flanked by G/C-rich stretches. Although the islet homeodomain-containing activator Pdx-1 was unable to stimulate transcription of a reporter gene through this enhancer element in mammalian cell lines, strikingly, Nkx6.1 robustly activated transcription through direct interaction with the A/T-rich sequence in this element. We demonstrate that this activation is indeed transcriptional in nature (and not secondary to translational effects) and is mediated by a modular acidic sequence within the COOH-terminal domain of Nkx6.1. We show by EMSAs that Nkx6.1 binds to the beta-cell-specific enhancer in vitro and by chromatin immunoprecipitation assays that Nkx6.1 natively occupies this region in vivo in betaTC3 cells. We therefore conclude that Nkx6.1 is a bifunctional transcription factor that serves to maintain the specific expression of its own gene during beta-cell differentiation while simultaneously effecting broader gene repression events.

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