The biosynthesis of estrogens is catalyzed by aromatase P450 (P450(arom)), the product of the CYP19 gene. The tissue-specific expression of the CYP19 gene is regulated by means of tissue-specific promoters through the use of alternative splicing mechanisms. Thus, transcripts containing various 5'-untranslated termini are present in ovary, brain, adipose stromal cells, and placenta. Sequence corresponding to untranslated exon I.1 is present uniquely in 5'-termini of transcripts expressed in human placenta and choriocarcinoma cells, as a consequence of expression driven by a distal promoter, I.1. The goal of the present study was the identification of regulatory elements in this promoter region. Various deletion mutations of the upstream flanking region of exon I.1 were constructed using the PCR or restriction enzyme digestion. The genomic fragments were fused upstream of the luciferase reporter gene. These constructs were transfected into human choriocarcinoma (JEG3) cells. The longest construct employed, -924/+10 bp, expressed the highest luciferase reporter gene activity. The -64/+10 bp and - 125/+10 bp constructs showed no reporter gene expression. Transfection of the -201/+10 bp construct resulted in reporter gene expression, but at a lower level than that of the -924/+10 bp construct, and this expression was induced by serum as well as by LG69 and TTNPB, ligands specific for RXR and RAR respectively, as well as by vitamin D. These results parallel the actions of the ligands on aromatase activity. Mutation or deletion of an imperfect palindromic sequence (AGGTCATGCCCC) located at -183 to -172 bp upstream of the transcriptional start site of exon I.1 resulted in loss of basal- and retinoid-induced reporter gene expression. Gel retardation analysis using nuclear extracts of JEG3 cells treated with retinoids and the imperfect palindromic sequence as probe, showed that proteins present in the nuclear extracts bound to this sequence in a specific fashion. The binding activities were elevated by incubation of the cells with LG69 and TTNPB, ligands specific for RXR and RAR respectively. Binding of nuclear proteins to the palindromic sequence was displaced either by anti-RXRα serum or by anti-VDR serum, suggesting the formation of a heterodimer of RXRα and VDR. These results suggest that the imperfect palindromic sequence upstream of exon I.1 plays an important but novel role in the regulated expression of the CYP19 gene in choriocarcinoma cells.
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