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Curr Top Dev Biol. 2012;98:35-63. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-386499-4.00002-1.

Grainy head and its target genes in epithelial morphogenesis and wound healing.

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Department of Developmental Biology, Wenner-Gren Institute, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.


The Grainy head (Grh) family of transcription factors is characterized by a unique DNA-binding domain that binds to a conserved consensus sequence. Nematodes and flies have a single grh gene, whereas mice and humans have evolved three genes encoding Grainy head-like (Grhl) factors. We review the biological function of Grh in different animals and the mechanisms modulating its activity. grh and grhl genes play a remarkably conserved role in epithelial organ development and extracellular barrier repair after tissue damage. Recent studies in flies and vertebrates suggest that Grh factors may be primary determinants of cell adhesion and epithelial tissue formation. Grh proteins can dimerize and act as activators or repressors in different developmental contexts. In flies, tissue-specific, alternative splicing generates different Grh isoforms with different DNA-binding specificities and functions. Grh activity is also modulated by receptor tyrosine kinases: it is phosphorylated by extracellular signal regulated kinase, and this phosphorylation is selectively required for epidermal barrier repair. Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain the repressive function of Grh on target gene transcription. First, Grh can target the Polycomb silencing complex to specific response elements. Second, it can directly compete for DNA binding with transcriptional activators. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of gene regulation by Grh factors is likely to elucidate phylogenetically conserved mechanisms of epithelial cell morphogenesis and regeneration upon tissue damage.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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