Melanocyte-specific expression of the human tyrosinase promoter: activation by the microphthalmia gene product and role of the initiator.
Bentley NJ., Eisen T., Goding CR.
The tyrosinase gene is expressed specifically in melanocytes and the cells of the retinal pigment epithelium, which together are responsible for skin, hair, and eye color. By using a combination of DNase I footprinting and band shift assays coupled with mutagenesis of specific DNA elements, we examined the requirements for melanocyte-specific expression of the human tyrosinase promoter. We found that as little as 115 bp of the upstream sequence was sufficient to direct tissue-specific expression. This 115-bp stretch contains three positive elements: the M box, a conserved element found in other melanocyte-specific promoters; an Sp1 site; and a highly evolutionarily conserved element located between -14 and +1 comprising an E-box motif and an overlapping octamer element. In addition, two further elements, one positive and one negative, are located between positions -185 and -150 and positions -150 and -115, respectively. We also found that the basic helix-loop-helix factor encoded by the microphthalmia gene, which is essential for melanocyte differentiation, can transactivate the tyrosinase promoter via the M box and the conserved E box located close to the initiator. Since in vitro assays failed to identify any melanocyte-specific DNA-binding activity, the possibility that the specific arrangement of elements within the basal tyrosinase promoter determines melanocyte-specific expression is discussed.