Osteoactivin (OA) is required for the differentiation of osteoblast cells. OA expression is stimulated by bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2). BMP-2 recruits homeodomain transcription factors Dlx3, Dlx5, and Msx2 to selectively activate or repress transcription of osteogenic genes and hence tightly regulate their transcription during osteoblast differentiation. Considering the key roles of Dlx3, Dlx5, and Msx2 in osteoblast differentiation, here we hypothesize that homeodomain proteins regulate BMP-2-induced OA transcription during osteoblast differentiation. Four classical homeodomain binding sites were identified in the proximal 0.96 kb region of rat OA promoter. Deletions and mutagenesis studies of the OA promoter region indicated that all four homeodomain binding sites are crucial for BMP-2-induced OA promoter activity. Simultaneous disruption of homeodomain binding sites at -852 and -843 of the transcription start site of OA gene significantly decreased the BMP-2-induced OA transcription and inhibited binding of Dlx3, Dlx5, and Msx2 proteins to the OA promoter. Dlx3 and Dlx5 proteins were found to activate the OA transcription, whereas, Msx2 suppressed BMP-2-induced OA transcription. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, we demonstrated that the OA promoter is predominantly occupied by Dlx3 and Dlx5 during the proliferation and matrix maturation stages of osteoblast differentiation, respectively. During the matrix mineralization stage, BMP-2 robustly enhanced the recruitment of Dlx5 and to a lesser extent of Dlx3 and Msx2 to the OA promoter region. Collectively, our results show that the BMP-2-induced OA transcription is differentially regulated by Dlx3, Dlx5, and Msx2 during osteoblast differentiation.
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