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J Biol Chem. 2013 Feb 1;288(5):3227-39. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.399782. Epub 2012 Dec 18.

Specificity protein 1 (Sp1)-dependent activation of the synapsin I gene (SYN1) is modulated by RE1-silencing transcription factor (REST) and 5'-cytosine-phosphoguanine (CpG) methylation.

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Department of Neuroscience and Brain Technologies, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, via Morego 30, 16163 Genova, Italy.


The development and function of the nervous system are directly dependent on a well defined pattern of gene expression. Indeed, perturbation of transcriptional activity or epigenetic modifications of chromatin can dramatically influence neuronal phenotypes. The phosphoprotein synapsin I (Syn I) plays a crucial role during axonogenesis and synaptogenesis as well as in synaptic transmission and plasticity of mature neurons. Abnormalities in SYN1 gene expression have been linked to important neuropsychiatric disorders, such as epilepsy and autism. SYN1 gene transcription is suppressed in non-neural tissues by the RE1-silencing transcription factor (REST); however, the molecular mechanisms that allow the constitutive expression of this genetic region in neurons have not been clarified yet. Herein we demonstrate that a conserved region of human and mouse SYN1 promoters contains cis-sites for the transcriptional activator Sp1 in close proximity to REST binding motifs. Through a series of functional assays, we demonstrate a physical interaction of Sp1 on the SYN1 promoter and show that REST directly inhibits Sp1-mediated transcription, resulting in SYN1 down-regulation. Upon differentiation of neuroblastoma Neuro2a cells, we observe a decrease in endogenous REST and a higher stability of Sp1 on target GC boxes, resulting in an increase of SYN1 transcription. Moreover, methylation of Sp1 cis-sites in the SYN1 promoter region could provide an additional level of transcriptional regulation. Our results introduce Sp1 as a fundamental activator of basal SYN1 gene expression, whose activity is modulated by the neural master regulator REST and CpG methylation.

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