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Mol Cell Biol. 1989 Nov;9(11):5022-33.

A new myocyte-specific enhancer-binding factor that recognizes a conserved element associated with multiple muscle-specific genes.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston 77030.


Exposure of skeletal myoblasts to growth factor-deficient medium results in transcriptional activation of muscle-specific genes, including the muscle creatine kinase gene (mck). Tissue specificity, developmental regulation, and high-level expression of mck are conferred primarily by a muscle-specific enhancer located between base pairs (bp) -1350 and -1048 relative to the transcription initiation site (E. A. Sternberg, G. Spizz, W. M. Perry, D. Vizard, T. Weil, and E. N. Olson, Mol. Cell. Biol. 8:2896-2909, 1988). To begin to define the regulatory mechanisms that mediate the selective activation of the mck enhancer in differentiating muscle cells, we have further delimited the boundaries of this enhancer and analyzed its interactions with nuclear factors from a variety of myogenic and nonmyogenic cell types. Deletion mutagenesis showed that the region between 1,204 and 1,095 bp upstream of mck functions as a weak muscle-specific enhancer that is dependent on an adjacent enhancer element for strong activity. This adjacent activating element does not exhibit enhancer activity in single copy but acts as a strong enhancer when multimerized. Gel retardation assays combined with DNase I footprinting and diethyl pyrocarbonate interference showed that a nuclear factor from differentiated C2 myotubes and BC3H1 myocytes recognized a conserved A + T-rich sequence within the peripheral activating region. This myocyte-specific enhancer-binding factor, designated MEF-2, was undetectable in nuclear extracts from C2 or BC3H1 myoblasts or several nonmyogenic cell lines. MEF-2 was first detectable within 2 h after exposure of myoblasts to mitogen-deficient medium and increased in abundance for 24 to 48 h thereafter. The appearance of MEF-2 required ongoing protein synthesis and was prevented by fibroblast growth factor and type beta transforming growth factor, which block the induction of muscle-specific genes. A myoblast-specific factor that is down regulated within 4 h after removal of growth factors was also found to bind to the MEF-2 recognition site. A 10-bp sequence, which was shown by DNase I footprinting and diethyl pyrocarbonate interference to interact directly with MEF-2, was identified within the rat and human mck enhancers, the rat myosin light-chain (mlc)-1/3 enhancer, and the chicken cardiac mlc-2A promoter. Oligomers corresponding to the region of the mlc-1/3 enhancer, which encompasses this conserved sequence, bound MEF-2 and competed for its binding to the mck enhancer. These results thus provide evidence for a novel myocyte-specific enhancer-binding factor, MEF-2, that is expressed early in the differentiation program and is suppressed by specific polypeptide growth factors. The ability of MEF-2 to recognize conserved activating elements associated with multiple-specific genes suggests that this factor may participate in the coordinate regulation of genes during myogenesis.

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