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Mol Cell Biol. 1997 Sep;17(9):4885-94.

Methylation of an ETS site in the intron enhancer of the keratin 18 gene participates in tissue-specific repression.

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Keio University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan.


The activities of ETS transcription factors are modulated by posttranscriptional modifications and cooperation with other proteins. Another factor which could alter the regulation of genes by ETS transcription factors is DNA methylation of their cognate binding sites. The optimal activity of the keratin 18 (K18) gene is dependent upon an ETS binding site within an enhancer region located in the first intron. The methylation of the ETS binding site was correlated with the repression of the K18 gene in normal human tissues and in K18 transgenic mouse tissues. Neither recombinant ETS2 nor endogenous spleen ETS binding activities bound the methylated site effectively. Increased expression of the K18 gene in spleens of transgenic mice by use of an alternative, cryptic promoter 700 bp upstream of the enhancer resulted in modestly decreased methylation of the K18 ETS site and increased RNA expression. Expression in transgenic mice of a mutant K18 gene, which was still capable of activation by ETS factors but was no longer a substrate for DNA methylation of the ETS site, was fivefold higher in spleen and heart. However, expression in other organs such as liver and intestine was similar to that of the wild-type gene. This result suggests that DNA methylation of the K18 ETS site may be functionally important in the tissue-specific repression of the K18 gene. Epigenetic modification of the binding sites for some ETS transcription factors may result in a refractory transcriptional response even in the presence of necessary trans-acting activities.

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