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Matrix Biol. 2012 Jul;31(6):328-37. doi: 10.1016/j.matbio.2012.06.001. Epub 2012 Jul 20.

Multiple enhancers associated with ACAN suggest highly redundant transcriptional regulation in cartilage.

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  • 1Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, United States.


The chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan core protein aggrecan is the major protein constituent of cartilage aside from collagen, and is largely responsible for its distinctive mechanical properties. Aggrecan is required both for proper cartilage formation in development and maintenance of mature cartilage. Prominent ACAN transcription is a conserved feature of vertebrate cartilage, although little is known about its specific transcriptional regulation. We examined the genomic interval containing human ACAN for transcriptional enhancers directing expression to cartilage, using a functional assay in transgenic zebrafish. We tested 24 conserved non-coding sequences, representing ~6% of the total sequence in the interval, and identified eleven independently capable of regulating reporter gene expression in cartilage. These enhancers were widely spaced, from >100kb upstream of the gene to within the first intron. While the majority displayed broad cartilage expression in zebrafish larvae, several were restricted to a subset of cartilage cells in the craniofacial skeleton. In older fish, the enhancers displayed differential activity; some maintained expression, either in all cartilage or preferentially in articular cartilage at the joints, while others were not active. This remarkable degree of overlapping regulatory control has been highly conserved; we identified clear orthologues of six enhancers at the chicken ACAN locus, arranged in the same order relative to the gene. These were also functional in directing expression to cartilage in transgenic zebrafish. Several enhancers contain potential binding sites for Sox9, consistent with its described role as an upstream regulator of ACAN expression. However, others lacked Sox9 consensus binding sites, implicating additional pathways and transcription factors as regulators of ACAN expression in cartilage, either in development or adult tissue. Our identification of these enhancer sequences is the necessary first step in detailed examination of the upstream regulators of ACAN expression.

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