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J Biol Chem. 2009 Jul 10;284(28):18816-23. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.015719. Epub 2009 May 14.

NFAT-3 is a transcriptional repressor of the growth-associated protein 43 during neuronal maturation.

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Laboratory for NeuroRegeneration and Repair, Department of Neurology, Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, Germany.


Transcription is essential for neurite and axon outgrowth during development. Recent work points to the involvement of nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT) in the regulation of genes important for axon growth and guidance. However, NFAT has not been reported to directly control the transcription of axon outgrowth-related genes. To identify transcriptional targets, we performed an in silico promoter analysis and found a putative NFAT site within the GAP-43 promoter. Using in vitro and in vivo experiments, we demonstrated that NFAT-3 regulates GAP-43, but unexpectedly, does not promote but represses the expression of GAP-43 in neurons and in the developing brain. Specifically, in neuron-like PC-12 cells and in cultured cortical neurons, the overexpression of NFAT-3 represses GAP-43 activation mediated by neurotrophin signaling. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, we also show that prior to neurotrophin activation, endogenous NFAT-3 occupies the GAP-43 promoter in PC-12 cells, in cultured neurons, and in the mouse brain. Finally, we observe that NFAT-3 is required to repress the physiological expression of GAP-43 and other pro-axon outgrowth genes in specific developmental windows in the mouse brain. Taken together, our data reveal an unexpected role for NFAT-3 as a direct transcriptional repressor of GAP-43 expression and suggest a more general role for NFAT-3 in the control of the neuronal outgrowth program.

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