Regulation of milk protein gene expression by lactogenic hormones (prolactin and glucocorticoids) provides an attractive model for studying the mechanisms by which protein and steroid hormones synergistically regulate gene expression. β-Casein is one of the major milk proteins and its expression in mammary epithelial cells is stimulated by lactogenic hormones. The signal transducer and activator of transcription 5 and glucocorticoid receptor are essential downstream mediators of prolactin and glucocorticoid signaling, respectively. Previous studies have shown that mutating the octamer-binding site of the β-casein gene proximal promoter dramatically reduces the hormonal induction of the promoter activity. However, little is known about the underlying molecular mechanisms. In this report, we show that lactogenic hormones rapidly induce the binding of octamer-binding transcription factor-1 to the β-casein promoter and this induction is not mediated by either increasing the expression of octamer-binding transcription factor-1 or inducing its translocation to the nucleus. Rather, lactogenic hormones induce physical interactions between the octamer-binding transcription factor-1, signal transducer and activator of transcription 5, and glucocorticoid receptor to form a ternary complex, and these interactions enhance or stabilize the binding of these transcription factors to the promoter. Abolishing these interactions significantly reduces the hormonal induction of β-casein gene transcription. Thus, our study indicates that octamer-binding transcription factor-1 may serve as a master regulator that facilitates the DNA binding of both signal transducer and activator of transcription 5 and glucocorticoid receptor in hormone-induced β-casein expression, and defines a novel mechanism of regulation of tissue-specific gene expression by the ubiquitous octamer-binding transcription factor-1.
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