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Mol Reprod Dev. 1998 Mar;49(3):246-53.

A regulatory element of the empty spiracles homeobox gene is composed of three distinct conserved regions that bind regulatory proteins.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.


Homeobox genes encode a class of highly evolutionarily conserved transcription factors that control embryonic development. The Drosophila melanogaster empty spiracles gene is the homolog of the two human homeobox genes EMX1 and EMX2. These genes are necessary for central nervous system development. We used a regulatory element of the empty spiracles gene to study the control of homeobox gene expression. The 1.2-kilobase (kb) cis-regulatory element located 3 kb 5' of the transcription start site of the empty spiracles gene was analyzed by evolutionary sequence comparisons, gel mobility shift assays, DNase footprinting, and the generation of transgenic flies. The corresponding element from a related species, Drosophila hydei, was cloned. Three discrete, approximately 100 base pair (bp) regions of sequence homology were identified. Each had two blocks of 10 to 40 bp of near perfect sequence identity. Fusion proteins were produced containing the Abdominal-B homeodomain or the empty spiracles homeodomain, known regulators of empty spiracles gene expression. Gel mobility shift assays showed that each of the three regions is bound by both proteins. DNase footprinting revealed closely linked empty spiracles and Abdominal-B binding sites. We then generated transgenic flies containing a reporter linked to individual conserved regions of the enhancer. Reporter expression was evident only outside of the usual empty spiracles expression domain. These elements are not sufficient alone; a combinatorial model is proposed. Conserved discrete areas within a homeobox gene regulatory element, which function as homeodomain protein transcription factor binding sites, are used in a combinatorial fashion to regulate these developmentally important genes.

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