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Hum Gene Ther Methods. 2014 Feb;25(1):1-13. doi: 10.1089/hgtb.2013.014. Epub 2013 Oct 29.

An independent construct for conditional expression of atonal homolog-1.

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1 Department of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, Tufts University School of Medicine , Boston, MA 02111.


The mammalian homolog of the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor atonal-1 (Atoh1 or Math1) is required for development of cochlear hair cells that function as the mechanosensory cells required for audition. Forced expression of Atoh1 in cochlear-supporting cells may provide a way to regenerate hair cells and provide for a therapy for hearing loss. Additionally, Atoh1 is an inhibitor of proliferation and has further clinical applications in anticancer therapies. The goal of these experiments was to improve the method for Atoh1 expression by engineering a genetic construct that may be used in future translational applications. To address the poor control of Atoh1 expression in standard gene expression systems where Atoh1 is expressed constitutively at abnormally elevated levels, our aim was to engineer an inducible system whereby Atoh1 was upregulated by an inducer and downregulated once the inducer was removed. A further aim was to engineer a single genetic construct that allowed for conditional expression of Atoh1 independent of secondary regulatory elements. Here we describe a stand-alone genetic construct that utilizes the tamoxifen sensitivity of a mutated estrogen receptor (ER) ligand-binding domain for the conditional expression of Atoh1. The Atoh1-ER-DsRed construct is translated into an ATOH1-ER-DSRED fusion protein that remains sequestered in the cytoplasm and therefore rendered inactive because it cannot enter the nucleus to activate Atoh1 signaling pathways. However, application of 4-hydroxytamoxifen results in translocation of the fusion protein to the nucleus, where it binds to the Atoh1 enhancer, upregulates transcription and translation of endogenous ATOH1 and activates downstream Atoh1 signaling such as upregulation of the hair cell protein MYOSIN 7A. Removal of tamoxifen reverses the upregulation of endogenous Atoh1 signaling. This construct serves as an independent genetic construct that allows for the conditional upregulation and downregulation of Atoh1, and may prove useful for manipulating Atoh1 expression in vivo.

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