Background: The Specificity proteins (Sp) are a family of transcription factors that have three highly conserved zinc-fingers located towards the carboxy-terminal that bind GC-boxes and assist in the initiation of gene transcription. Human Sp1-7 genes have been characterized. Recently, the phenotype of Sp8 null mice has been described, being tailless and having severe truncation of both fore and hind limbs. They also have malformed brains with defective closure of the anterior and posterior neuropore during brain development.
Results: The human Sp8 gene is a three-exon gene that maps to 7p21.3, close to the related Sp4 gene. From an osteosarcoma cell line we cloned two transcript variants that use two different first exons and have a common second exon. One clone encodes a 508-residue protein, Sp8L (isoform 1) and the other a shorter 490-residue protein, Sp8S (isoform 2). These two isoforms are conserved being found also in mice and zebrafish. Analysis of the Sp8L protein sequence reveals an amino-terminal hydrophobic Sp-motif that is disrupted in Sp8S, a buttonhead box and three C2H2 zinc-fingers. Sp8 mRNA expression was detected in a wide range of tissues at a low level, with the highest levels being found in brain. Treatment of the murine pluripotent cell line C3H10T1/2 with 100 ng/mL BMP-2 induced Sp8 mRNA after 24 hours.
Conclusions: There is conservation of the two Sp8 protein isoforms between primates, rodents and fish, suggesting that the isoforms have differing roles in gene regulation. Sp8 may play a role in chondrogenic/osteoblastic differentiation in addition to its role in brain and limb development.