Research article

Cross-species characterization of the promoter region of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene reveals multiple levels of regulation

Sandrine VUILLAUMIER, Isabelle DIXMERAS, Habib MESSAÏ, Claudine LAPOUMÉROULIE, Dominique LALLEMAND, Jean GEKAS, F. Farid CHEHAB, Christine PERRET, Jacques ELION, Erick DENAMUR


The cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene is highly conserved within vertebrate species. Its pattern of expression in vivo seems to be tightly regulated both developmentally and in a tissue-specific manner, but shows differences with species. To identify transcriptional regulatory elements in the CFTR promoter region, we have used a combined approach based both on the analysis of the chromatin structure in vivo in rat tissues and on evolutionary clues (i.e. phylogenetic footprinting). In CFTR-expressing tissues, 15 DNase I-hypersensitive sites were identified within a 36 kb region encompassing exon 1. Eleven of them are clustered in a 3.5 kb region that exhibits eleven phylogenetic footprints observed when comparing sequences from eight mammalian species representing four orders (Primates, Artiodactylia, Lagomorpha and Rodentia). Comparison of the two sets of data allows the identification of two types of regulatory elements. Some are conserved between species, such as a non-consensus cAMP response element (CRE) and a PMA-responsive element (TRE) located respectively at positions -0.1 and -1.3 kb relative to ATG. Some are species-specific elements such as a 300 bp purine·pyrimidine (Pu·Py) stretch that is present only in rodents. Analysis of protein/DNA interactions in vitro with rat tissue protein extracts on the conserved elements revealed that the TRE site binds a specific heterodimeric complex composed of Fra-2, Jun D and a protein immunologically related to Jun/CRE-binding protein in the duodenum, whereas the CRE-like site binds ATF-1 ubiquitously. Functional analysis in Caco-2 cells showed that the CRE-like site supports a high basal transcriptional activity but is not able by itself to induce a response to cAMP, whereas the TRE site acts as a weak transactivator stimulated by PMA. Lastly, we found that the rodent-specific Pu·Py stretch confers nuclease S1 hypersensitivity under conditions of acidic pH and supercoiling. This indicates a non-B DNA conformation and thus reinforces the biological significance of non-random Pu·Py strand asymmetry in the regulation of transcription. Thus the tight transcriptional regulation of CFTR expression involves the combination of multiple regulatory elements that act in the chromatin environment in vivo. Some of them are conserved throughout evolution, such as the CRE-like element, which is clearly involved in the basal level of transcription; others are species-specific.