Msx2 is a homeodomain transcriptional repressor that exerts tissue- specific actions during craniofacial skeletal and neural development. To identify coregulatory molecules that participate in transcriptional repression by Msx2, we applied a Farwestern expression cloning strategy to identify transcripts encoding proteins that bind Msx2. A λgt11 expression library from mouse brain was screened with radiolabeled GST-Msx2 fusion protein encompassing the core suppressor domain of Msx2. A cDNA was isolated that encodes a novel protein fragment that binds radiolabeled Msx2. Homeoprotein binding activity was confirmed by Farwestern analysis of the T7- epitope-tagged recombinant protein fragment, and interactions in vitro require Msx2 residues necessary for transcriptional suppression in vivo. On the basis of biochemical analyses, this novel protein was named MINT, an acronym for Msx2-interacting nuclear target protein. The original clone is part of a 12.6 kb transcript expressed at high levels in testis and at lower levels in calvarial osteoblasts and brain. Multiple clones isolated from a mouse testis library were sequenced to construct a MINT cDNA contig of 11 kb. Starting from an initiator Met in good Kozak context, a large nascent polypeptide of 3576 amino acids is predicted, in contiguous open reading frame with the Msx2 interaction domain residues 2070-2394. Protein sequence analysis reveals that MINT has three N-terminal RNA recognition motifs (RRMs) and four nuclear localization signals. Western blot analysis of fractionated cell extracts reveals that mature ~110 kDa (N-terminal) and ~250 kDa (C- terminal) MINT protein fragments accumulate in chromatin and nuclear matrix fractions, cosegregating with Msx2 and topoisomerase II. In gel shift assays, the MINT RRM domain selectively binds T- and G-rich DNA sequences; this includes a large G/T-rich inverted repeat element present in the proximal rat osteocalcin (OC) promoter, overlapping three cognates that support OC expression in osteoblasts. MINT and OC mRNAs are reciprocally regulated during differentiation of MC3T3E1 calvarial osteoblasts. Consistent with its proposed role as a nuclear transcriptional factor, transient expression of MINT(1-812) suppresses the FGF/forskolin-activated OC promoter, does not significantly regulate CMV promoter activity, but markedly upregulates the HSV thymidine kinase promoter in MC3T3E1 cells. In toto, these data indicate that the novel nuclear protein MINT binds the homeoprotein Msx2 and coregulates OC during craniofacial development. Msx2 and MINT both target an information-dense, osteoblast-specific regulatory region of the OC proximal promoter, nucleotides -141 to -111. The N-terminal MINT RRM domain represents an authentic dsDNA binding module for this novel vertebrate nuclear matrix protein. Acting as a scaffold protein, MINT potentially exerts both positive and negative regulatory actions by organizing transcriptional complexes in the nuclear matrix.
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