Nkx2 homeodomain transcription factors are involved in various developmental processes and cell specification: e.g. in mammals, NKX2-1 is essential for thyroid-specific gene expression and thyroid morphogenesis. Among Nkx2 proteins, information is still very limited for Nkx2-4. In the present study, we have identified three distinct cDNAs encoding Nkx2-4 isoforms (Nkx2-4a, -b, and -c) from the rainbow trout thyroid tissue, and characterized their transcriptional properties. The trout Nkx2-4 proteins were all predicted to conserve three characteristic domains: the tinman-like amino terminal decapeptide, the NK2 homeodomain, and the NK2-specific domain, and also share 75-89% amino acid similarity. It was shown by dual luciferase assay that Nkx2-4a and Nkx2-4b, but not Nkx2-4c, significantly activated transcription from a cotransfected rat thyroglobulin (TG) promoter. An electrophoretic mobility shift assay indicated that all the Nkx2-4 isoforms could bind to the TG promoter, implying that the faint transcriptional activity of Nkx2-4c might result from some critical amino acid substitution(s) outside the homeodomain. RT-PCR analysis revealed similar tissue distribution patterns for Nkx2-4a and Nkx2-4b mRNAs. Both mRNAs were expressed abundantly in the thyroid, and weakly in the testis. On the other hand, Nkx2-4c mRNA was detected in the ovary as well as in the thyroid. The expression sites of Nkx2-4c mRNA were localized, by in situ hybridization histochemistry, to the ovarian granulosa cells and to the thyroid follicular cells. The results suggest that in the rainbow trout, Nkx2-4a and Nkx2-4b might play a major role in TG gene transcription whereas Nkx2-4c might have some functions in the ovary as well as the thyroid.
Keywords: Nkx2-1; Nkx2-4; Ovary; Rainbow trout; TTF-1; Thyroid transcription factor.
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