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Mol Reprod Dev. 1998 Aug;50(4):396-405.

Mouse protamine genes are candidate targets for the novel orphan nuclear receptor, germ cell nuclear factor.

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Department of Cell Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA.


Proper expression of the protamine genes is an important event in the terminal differentiation of the male gametes in mammals. Here we present evidence that the novel orphan member of the nuclear receptor gene superfamily, Germ Cell Nuclear Factor (GCNF), may play a role in the regulation of these genes. Previously, we have shown that high-level expression of GCNF mRNA is restricted to spermatids (stages 1-8) in the adult male mouse, which makes it temporally and spatially available to regulate the mouse protamine genes. Furthermore, we have previously identified a sequence to which GCNF can bind, which consists of a direct repeat of the core halfsite AGGTCA with zero base pairs spacing the repeats (DRO). We have identified several genes that contain DRO sequences in their 5' promoter regions, including the protamines. The mouse protamine 1 and 2 (Prm1 and Prm2) genes therefore are potential target genes for GCNF regulation. We show that GCNF binds to one of the two DRO sequences in the Prm1 promoter, and to the DRO sequence in the Prm2 promoter in a specific manner. Furthermore, by using antibodies directed against GCNF, we detect endogenous GCNF in testis nuclear extracts and elutriated round spermatid nuclear extracts in Western blots. Additionally, by using these antibodies in gel-shift assays, we show that this endogenous GCNF can bind to both the Prm1 and Prm2 promoters. This evidence supports the hypothesis that GCNF mediates a novel signaling pathway, two targets of which may be the Prm1 and Prm2 genes in spermatids.

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