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Cell. 1989 Nov 17;59(4):649-55.

Alpha beta lineage-specific expression of the alpha T cell receptor gene by nearby silencers.

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Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Nine Cambridge Center, Massachusetts 02142.


T cells expressing either the alpha beta or gamma delta antigen receptor (TCR) are distinct cell lineages. The single locus encoding the TCR alpha and delta genes requires special regulation to avoid alpha gene expression in gamma delta T cells. We show here that the minimal alpha enhancer is active in the gamma delta T cell lineage but gains alpha beta lineage specificity through negative cis-acting elements 3' of the C alpha gene that silence the enhancer in gamma delta T cells. The negative elements at the C alpha locus consist of several silencers that work in an orientation- and distance-independent fashion. These silencers also act on a retroviral enhancer that is normally ubiquitously expressed, restricting its activity to alpha beta cells. The alpha silencers are active in non-T cell lines, suggesting that the decision of a cell to differentiate into the alpha beta T cell lineage may involve specific relief from these silencers. Silencers are likely to be as important as enhancers in establishing lineage-specific gene expression in many systems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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