Zinc Fingers and Homeoboxes 2 (Zhx2) Regulates Sexually Dimorphic Cyp Gene Expression in the Adult Mouse Liver

Gene Expr. 2016;17(1):7-17. doi: 10.3727/105221616X691712. Epub 2016 May 17.


The mammalian cytochrome P450 (Cyp) gene family encodes a large number of structurally related enzymes that catalyze a variety of metabolic and detoxification reactions. The liver is the primary site of Cyp expression in terms of expression levels and number of expressed genes, consistent with this organ's essential role in metabolism of endogenous and xenobiotic compounds. Many Cyp genes exhibit sexually dimorphic expression. For example, Cyp2a4 is expressed significantly higher in the adult liver of female mice compared to male mice. An exception to this pattern is seen in BALB/cJ mice, where male hepatic Cyp2a4 mRNA levels are substantially elevated compared to male mice of other strains. The Zinc fingers and homeoboxes 2 (Zhx2) protein governs the silencing of several genes in the postnatal liver, including α-fetoprotein, H19, and glypican 3. Zhx2 also regulates numerous hepatic genes that govern lipid homeostasis. We previously showed that the Zhx2 gene is mutated in BALB/cJ mice, which led us to consider whether elevated male hepatic Cyp2a4 levels in this strain are due to this Zhx2 mutation. Using mice with a conditional Zhx2 deletion, we show here that the absence of Zhx2 in hepatocytes results in increased Cyp2a4 expression in adult male liver. We extend this finding to show that additional Cyp genes are disregulated in the absence of Zhx2. We also show that mRNA levels of Cyp2a4 and several other female-biased Cyp genes are increased, and male-biased Cyp4a12 is decreased in mouse liver tumors. These data indicate that Zhx2 is a novel regulator of sex-biased Cyp gene expression in the normal and diseased liver.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / genetics*
  • Glypicans / metabolism
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Lipids / physiology
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Sex Characteristics
  • alpha-Fetoproteins / metabolism


  • Glypicans
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Lipids
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Zhx2 protein, mouse
  • alpha-Fetoproteins
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System