Full genome annotation requires gene expression analysis and elucidation of promoter activity. Here, we analyzed the expression and promoter of a highly restricted integrin gene, Itga8. RNase protection and quantitative RT-PCR showed Itga8 to be expressed most abundantly in vascular smooth muscle cells (SMC). Transcription start site mapping of Itga8 revealed the immediate 5' promoter region to be poorly conserved with orthologous sequences in the human genome. Further comparative sequence analysis showed a number of conserved non-coding sequence modules around the Itga8 gene. The immediate promoter region and an upstream conserved sequence module were each found to contain a CArG box, which is a binding site for serum response factor (SRF). Luciferase reporter assays revealed activity of several Itga8 promoter constructs with no apparent restricted activity to SMC types. Further, neither SRF nor its coactivator, Myocardin (MYOCD), was able to induce several distinct Itga8 promoter constructs. Transgenic mouse studies failed to reveal Itga8 promoter activity, indicating distal regulatory elements likely control this gene's in vivo expression profile. Interestingly, although the promoter was unresponsive to SRF/MYOCD, the endogenous Itga8 gene showed increases in expression upon ectopic MYOCD expression even though knockdown of SRF both in vitro and in vivo failed to demonstrate a corresponding change in Itga8. Collectively, these data demonstrate that Itga8 expression is CArG-SRF independent, but MYOCD dependent through an as yet unknown sequence module that is distal from the promoter region.
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