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J Immunol. 2010 Jul 15;185(2):1082-92. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1000472. Epub 2010 Jun 16.

Ternary complex factors SAP-1 and Elk-1, but not net, are functionally equivalent in thymocyte development.

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Transcription Laboratory, Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, Lincoln's Inn Fields Laboratories, London, United Kingdom.


The ternary complex factors (TCFs; SAP-1, Elk-1, and Net) are serum response factor cofactors that share many functional properties and are coexpressed in many tissues. SAP-1, the predominant thymus TCF, is required for thymocyte positive selection. In this study, we assessed whether the different TCFs are functionally equivalent. Elk-1 deletion, but not the hypomorphic Net(delta) mutation, exacerbated the SAP-1 positive selection phenotype, but triply deficient thymocytes were no more defective than SAP-1(-/-) Elk-1(-/-) cells. Inactivation of the other TCFs did not affect SAP-1-independent processes, including beta-selection, regulatory T cell selection, and negative selection, although reduced marginal zone B cells were observed in SAP-1(-/-) Elk-1(-/-) animals. Ectopic expression of Elk-1, but not Net, rescued positive selection of SAP-1(-/-) thymocytes; thus, SAP-1 and Elk-1 are functionally equivalent in this system, and the SAP-1 null selection phenotype reflects only its high expression in the thymus. Array analysis of TCR-stimulated double-positive cells identified SAP-1-dependent inducible genes whose transcription was further impaired in SAP-1(-/-) Elk-1(-/-) cells; thus, these genes, which include Egr-1 and Egr-2, represent candidate mediators of positive selection. Chromatin immunoprecipitation revealed subtly different promoter targeting between the different TCFs. Ectopic expression of Egr-1 restored positive selection in SAP-1 null thymocytes, establishing it (and possibly other Egr family members) as the major effector for ERK-SAP-1 signaling in thymocyte positive selection.

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