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Mol Cell Biol. 2005 Nov;25(22):9874-85.

Smooth muscle-specific genes are differentially sensitive to inhibition by Elk-1.

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Department of Cellular and Integrative Physiology, Indiana University School of Medicine, 635 Barnhill Drive, Indianapolis, Indiana 46202-5120, USA.


Understanding the mechanism of smooth muscle cell (SMC) differentiation will provide the foundation for elucidating SMC-related diseases, such as atherosclerosis, restenosis, and asthma. In the current study, overexpression of Elk-1 in SMCs down-regulated expression of several endogenous smooth muscle-restricted proteins, including telokin, SM22alpha, and smooth muscle alpha-actin. In contrast, down-regulation of endogenous Elk-1 in smooth muscle cells increased the expression of only telokin and SM22alpha, suggesting that smooth muscle-specific promoters are differentially sensitive to the inhibitory effects of Elk-1. Consistent with this, overexpression of the DNA binding domain of Elk-1, which acts as a dominant-negative protein by displacing endogenous Elk-1, enhanced the expression of telokin and SM22alpha without affecting expression of smooth muscle alpha-actin. Elk-1 suppressed the activity of smooth muscle-restricted promoters, including the telokin promoter that does not contain a consensus Elk-1 binding site, through its ability to block myocardin-induced activation of the promoters. Gel mobility shift and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays revealed that Elk-1 binds to a nonconsensus binding site in the telokin promoter and Elk-1 binding is dependent on serum response factor (SRF) binding to a nearby CArG box. Although overexpression of the SRF-binding B-box domain of Elk-1 is sufficient to repress the myocardin activation of the telokin promoter, this repression is not as complete as that seen with an Elk-1 fragment that includes the DNA binding domain. In addition, reporter gene assays demonstrate that an intact Elk-1 binding site in the telokin promoter is required for Elk-1 to maximally inhibit promoter activity. Together, these data suggest that the differential sensitivity of smooth muscle-specific genes to inhibition by Elk-1 may play a role in the complex changes in smooth muscle-specific protein expression that are observed under pathological conditions.

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