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J Neurosci. 2012 Feb 8;32(6):2110-20. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3584-11.2012.

A Phox2- and Hand2-dependent Hand1 cis-regulatory element reveals a unique gene dosage requirement for Hand2 during sympathetic neurogenesis.

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Riley Heart Research Center, Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research, Division of Pediatric Cardiology, Department of Anatomy, Indiana Medical School, Indianapolis, Indiana 46202-5225, USA.


Neural crest cell specification and differentiation to a sympathetic neuronal fate serves as an important model for neurogenesis and depends upon the function of both bHLH transcription factors, notably Hand2, and homeodomain transcription factors, including Phox2b. Here, we define a 1007 bp cis-regulatory element 5' of the Hand1 gene sufficient to drive reporter expression within the sympathetic chain of transgenic mice. Comparative genomic analyses uncovered evolutionarily conserved consensus-binding sites within this element, which chromatin immunoprecipitation and electrophoretic mobility shift assays confirm are bound by Hand2 and Phox2b. Mutational analyses revealed that the conserved Phox2 and E-box binding sites are necessary for proper cis-regulatory element activity, and expression analyses on both Hand2 conditionally null and hypomorphic backgrounds demonstrate that Hand2 is required for reporter activation in a gene dosage-dependent manner. We demonstrate that Hand2 and Hand1 differentially bind the E-boxes in this cis-regulatory element, establishing molecular differences between these two factors. Finally, we demonstrate that Hand1 is dispensable for normal tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and dopamine β-hydroxylase (DBH) expression in sympathetic neurons, even when Hand2 gene dosage is concurrently reduced by half. Together, these data define a tissue-specific Hand1 cis-regulatory element controlled by two factors essential for the development of the sympathetic nervous system and provide in vivo regulatory evidence to support previous findings that Hand2, rather than Hand1, is predominantly responsible for regulating TH, DBH, and Hand1 expression in developing sympathetic neurons.

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