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EMBO J. 1993 Aug;12(8):3201-9.

Conversion of a dorsal-dependent silencer into an enhancer: evidence for dorsal corepressors.

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Department of Biology, UCSD, La Jolla 92093-0322.


In Drosophila, the dorsal (dl) morphogen gradient initiates the differentiation of the embryonic mesoderm and neuroectoderm by activating the expression of regulatory genes (e.g. twist and snail) in a concentration-dependent manner. dl also functions as a repressor that establishes the dorsal epidermis and amnioserosa by restricting regulatory genes such as dpp and zen to dorsal regions of the embryo. The ability of dl to function as both an activator and repressor distinguishes it from the bicoid morphogen, which appears to function solely as an activator. In an effort to determine how dl functions as a repressor we have performed a detailed characterization of a zen silencer element, called the VRE, which mediates ventral repression in response to the dl gradient. A minimal 110 bp VRE sequence is identified, which is able to silence the ventral expression of a heterologous promoter. This sequence contains two dl binding sites as well as binding sites for additional nuclear factors present in early embryos. Mutations in the latter binding sites convert the minimal VRE into an enhancer, which mediates transcriptional activation in ventral regions in response to dl. These results suggest that dl is intrinsically an activator, but is converted into a potent silencer when it interacts with neighboring corepressors.

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