Background: Doublecortin (Dcx), a MAP (Microtubule-Associated Protein), is transiently expressed in migrating and differentiating neurons and thereby characterizes neuronal precursors and neurogenesis in developing and adult neurogenesis. In addition, reduced Dcx expression during development has been related to appearance of brain pathologies. Here, we attempt to unveil the molecular mechanisms controlling Dcx gene expression by studying its transcriptional regulation during neuronal differentiation.
Results: To determine and analyze important regulatory sequences of the Dcx promoter, we studied a putative regulatory region upstream from the mouse Dcx coding region (pdcx2kb) and several deletions thereof. These different fragments were used in vitro and in vivo to drive reporter gene expression. We demonstrated, using transient expression experiments, that pdcx2kb is sufficient to control specific reporter gene expression in cerebellar cells and in the developing brain (E14.5). We determined the temporal profile of Dcx promoter activity during neuronal differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESC) and found that transcriptional activation of the Dcx gene varies along with neuronal differentiation of mESC. Deletion experiments and sequence comparison of Dcx promoters across rodents, human and chicken revealed the importance of a highly conserved sequence in the proximal region of the promoter required for specific and strong expression in neuronal precursors and young neuronal cells. Further analyses revealed the presence in this short sequence of several conserved, putative transcription factor binding sites: LEF/TCF (Lymphoid Enhancer Factor/T-Cell Factor) which are effectors of the canonical Wnt pathway; HNF6/OC2 (Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor-6/Oncecut-2) members of the ONECUT family and NF-Y/CAAT (Nuclear Factor-Y).
Conclusions: Studies of Dcx gene regulatory sequences using native, deleted and mutated constructs suggest that fragments located upstream of the Dcx coding sequence are sufficient to induce specific Dcx expression in vitro: in heterogeneous differentiated neurons from mESC, in primary mouse cerebellar neurons (PND3) and in organotypic slice cultures. Furthermore, a region in the 3'-end region of the Dcx promoter is highly conserved across several species and exerts positive control on Dcx transcriptional activation. Together, these results indicate that the proximal 3'-end region of the mouse Dcx regulatory sequence is essential for Dcx gene expression during differentiation of neuronal precursors.