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J Biol Chem. 1998 Jan 30;273(5):2917-25.

A novel nk-2-related transcription factor associated with human fetal liver and hepatocellular carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA.


A novel cDNA was partially isolated from a HepG2 cell expression library by screening with the promoter-linked coupling element (PCE), a site from the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) gene promoter. The remainder of the cDNA was cloned from fetal liver RNA using random amplification of cDNA ends. The cDNA encodes a 239-amino acid peptide with domains closely related to the Drosophila factor nk-2. The new factor is the eighth vertebrate factor related to nk-2, hence nkx-2.8. Northern blot and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction analysis demonstrated mRNA in HepG2, two other AFP-expressing human cell lines, and human fetal liver. Transcripts were not detected in adult liver. Cell-free translation produced DNA binding activity that gel shifted a PCE oligonucleotide. Cotransfection of nkx-2.8 expression and PCE reporter plasmids into HeLa cells demonstrated transcriptional activation; NH2-terminal deletion eliminated this activity. Cotransfection into AFP-producing hepatocytic cells repressed AFP reporter expression, suggesting that endogenous activity was already present in these cells. In contrast, cotransfection into an AFP-negative hepatocytic line produced moderate activation of the AFP gene. The cardiac developmental factor nkx-2.5 could substitute for nkx-2.8 in all transfection assays, whereas another related factor, thyroid transcription factor 1, showed a more limited range of substitution. Although the studies have yet to establish definitively that nkx-2.8 is the AFP gene regulator PCF, the two factors share a common DNA binding site, gel shift behavior, migration on SDS-acrylamide gels, and cellular distribution. Moreover, the nk-2-related genes are developmental regulators, and nkx-2.8 is the first such factor associated with liver development.

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