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Mech Dev. 1997 Oct;67(2):171-8.

The SpHE gene is downregulated in sea urchin late blastulae despite persistence of multiple positive factors sufficient to activate its promoter.

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Department of Biology, University of Rochester, NY 14627, USA.


Previous studies of the regulatory region of the SpHE (hatching enzyme) gene of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus (Wei, Z., Angerer, L.M., Gagnon, M.L. and Angerer, R.C. (1995) Characterization of the SpHE promoter that are spatially regulated along the animal-vegetal axis of the sea urchin embryo. Dev. Biol. 171, 195-211) have shown that approximately 330 bp is necessary and sufficient to promote high level expression in embryos of transgenes that reproduce the spatially asymmetric pattern of endogenous gene activity along the maternally determined animal-vegetal embryonic axis. Furthermore, SpHE regulatory elements appear to be redundant since several different combinations are sufficient to elicit strong promoter activity and many subsets function like the endogenous gene only in non-vegetal cells of the blastula (Wei, Z., Angerer, L.M. and Angerer, R.C. (1997) Multiple positive cis-elements regulate the asymmetric expression of the SpHE gene along the sea urchin embryo animal-vegetal axis. Dev. Biol., 187, 71-88). Here we demonstrate by in vivo footprinting that many cis elements on the endogenous promoter are occupied when the gene is active in early blastulae, but the binding of corresponding trans factors is significantly reduced when the gene becomes inactive in late blastulae. In addition, downregulation of the promoter is accompanied by a transition from a non-nucleosomal to a nucleosome-like chromatin structure. Surprisingly, in vitro DNase I footprints of the 300 bp promoter using nuclear protein extracts from early and late blastulae are not detectably different and neither this sequence, nor a longer one extending to -1255, reproduces the loss of endogenous SpHE transcriptional activity after very early blastula stage. These observations imply that temporal repression of SpHE transcription involves a decrease in accessibility of the promoter to activators that are nevertheless present in nuclei and capable of activating transgene promoters. Temporal, but not spatial, downregulation is therefore likely to be regulated by negative activities functioning outside the -1255 promoter region which may serve as direct repressors or mediate an inactive chromatin structure.

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