GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cell Biology



First Thesis Advisor

Janet L. Stein


Transcription, Genetic, Transcription Factors, DNA-Binding Proteins, Focal Adhesions, Cell Nucleus, Nuclear Localization Signals, Osteocalcin, Osteocytes, Osteoblasts, Bone Diseases, Models, Animal, Microscopy, Fluorescence


The family of runt related transcription factors (RUNX/Cbfa/AML/PEBP2) are essential for cellular differentiation and fetal development. RUNX factors are distributed throughout the nucleus in punctate foci that are associated with the nuclear matrix/scaffold and generally correspond with sites of active transcription. Truncations of RUNX proteins that eliminate the C-terminus including a 31-amino acid segment designated the nuclear matrix targeting signal (NMTS) lose nuclear matrix association and result in lethal hematopoietic (RUNX1) and skeletal (RUNX2) phenotypes in mice. These findings suggest that the targeting of RUNX factors to subnuclear foci may mediate the formation of multimeric regulatory complexes and contribute to transcriptional control. In this study, we hypothesized that RUNX transcription factors may dynamically move through the nucleus and associate with subnuclear domains in a C-terminal dependent mechanism to regulate transcription. Therefore, we investigated the subnuclear distribution and mobility of RUNX transcription factors in living cells using enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) fused to RUNX proteins. The RUNX C-terminus was demonstrated to be necessary for the dynamic association of RUNX with stable subnuclear domains. Time-lapse fluorescence microscopy showed that RUNX1 and RUNX2 localize to punctate foci that remain stationary in the nuclear space in living cells. By measuring fluorescence recovery after photobleaching, both RUNX1 and RUNX2 were found to dynamically and rapidly associate with these subnuclear foci with a half-time of recovery in the ten-second time scale. A large immobile fraction of RUNX1 and RUNX2 proteins was observed in the photobleaching experiments, which suggests that this fraction of RUNX1 and RUNX2 proteins are immobilized through the C-terminal domain by interacting with the nuclear architecture. Truncation of the C-terminus of RUNX2, which removes the NMTS as well as several co-regulatory protein interaction domains, increases the mobility of RUNX2 by at least an order of magnitude, resulting in a half-time of recovery equivalent to that of EGFP alone.

Contributions of the NMTS sequence to the subnuclear distribution and mobility of RUNX2 were further assessed by creating point mutations in the NMTS of RUNX2 fused to EGFP. The results show that these point mutations decrease, but do not abolish, association with the nuclear matrix compared to wild-type EGFP-RUNX2. Three patterns of subnuclear distribution were similarly observed in living cells for both NMTS mutants and wild-type RUNX2. Furthermore, the NMTS mutations showed no measurable effect on the mobility of RUNX2. However, the mobility of RUNX proteins in each of the different subnuclear distributions observed in living cells were significantly different from each other. The punctate distribution appears to correlate with higher fluorescence intensity, suggesting that the protein concentration in the cell may have an effect on the formation or size of the foci. These findings suggest that the entire NMTS and/or the co-regulatory protein interaction domains may be necessary to immobilize RUNX2 proteins.

Because RUNX factors contain a conserved intranuclear targeting signal, we examined whether RUNX1 and RUNX2 are targeted to common subnuclear domains. The results show that RUNX1 and RUNX2 colocalized in common subnuclear foci. Furthermore, RUNX subnuclear foci contain the co-regulatory protein CBFβ, which heterodimerizes with RUNX factors, and nascent transcripts as shown by BrUTP incorporation. These results suggest that RUNX subnuclear foci may represent sites of transcription containing multi-subunit transcription factor complexes.

RUNX2 transcription factors induce expression of the osteocalcin promoter during osteoblast differentiation and to study both RUNX2 and osteocalcin function, it would be helpful to have transgenic mice in which OC expression could be easily evaluated. Therefore, to assess the in vivo regulation of osteocalcin by RUNX protein, we generated transgenic mice expressing EGFP controlled by the osteocalcin promoter. Our results show that EGFP is expressed from the OC promoter in a cultured osteosarcoma cell line, but not in a kidney cell line, and is induced by vitamin D3. Furthermore, the OC-EGFP transgenic mice specifically express EGFP in osteoblasts and osteocytes in bone tissues. Moreover, EGFP is expressed in mineralized bone nodules of differentiated bone marrow derived from transgenic mice. Thus, these mice produce a good model for studying the in vivo effects of RUNX-mediated osteocalcin regulation and for developing potential drug therapies for bone diseases.

Taken together, our results in living cells support the conclusion that RUNX transcription factors dynamically associate with stationary subnuclear foci in a C-terminal dependent mechanism to regulate gene expression. Moreover, RUNX subnuclear foci represent transcription sites containing nascent transcripts and co-regulatory interacting proteins. These conclusions provide a mechanism for how RUNX transcription factors may associate with subnuclear foci to regulate gene expression. Furthermore, the OC-EGFP transgenic mice now provide a useful tool for studying the in vivo function and regulation of osteocalcin by RUNX proteins during osteoblast differentiation and possibly for developing therapeutic drugs for treatment of bone diseases in the future.


Some images did not scan well. Please consult original document.



Rights and Permissions

Copyright is held by the author, with all rights reserved.