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J Biol Chem. 2012 Jan 13;287(3):1996-2005. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.308734. Epub 2011 Nov 29.

Stem cell gene SALL4 suppresses transcription through recruitment of DNA methyltransferases.

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Division of Cancer Biology, Nevada Cancer Institute, Las Vegas, Nevada 89135, USA.


The stem cell protein SALL4 plays a vital role in maintaining stem cell identity and governing stem cell self-renewal through transcriptional repression. To explore SALL4-mediated mechanisms involved in transcriptional repression, we investigated DNA modifications underlying its regulatory activities. By a luciferase activity assay, we found that both histone deacetylase inhibitor valproic acid (VPA) and DNA methylation inhibitor 5-azacytidine (5-azaC) specifically reversed the repression effect of SALL4 on its own as well as other Sal gene promoter activities. Cotreatment of VPA with 5-azaC in cells almost completely blocked this repression effect. Further co-immunoprecipitation assay and enzyme activity analysis demonstrated that SALL4 protein directly interacted with different DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) and purified DNMT enzymatic activities from nuclear extracts. In addition, SALL4 isoforms co-occupied the same regions of its own promoter as DNMT corepressors, and ectopic overexpression of SALL4 led to increased CpG island promoter methylation of silenced genes in various cell types. These included primary hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, fibroblasts, and NB4 leukemic cells. In NB4 cells, treatment of cells with 5-azaC also caused decreased amounts of methylated alleles of SALL4 and PTEN and dramatically increased their mRNA expression. Our studies identify a new mechanism by which SALL4 represses gene expression through interaction with DNMTs. Furthermore, DNMTs and histone deacetylase repressors synergistically contribute to the regulatory effects of SALL4. These findings provide new insights into stem cell self-renewal mediated by SALL4 via epigenetic machinery.

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