Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Molecular Genetics and Microbiology


Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

First Thesis Advisor

Dr. Paul R. Dobner


Neurotensin, Genetics, Biochemical


This thesis examines the structure and regulated expression of the gene encoding the neuroendocrine peptides neurotensin and neuromedin N (NT/N gene). Previous studies have shown that expression of NT/N mRNA and NT peptide in PC12 cells are strictly dependent on simultaneous exposure to combinations of nerve growth factor (NGF), glucocorticoids, activators of adenylate cyclase, and lithium ion. My objective was to characterize the cis-regulatory DNA sequences involved in regulated expression of this gene.

The initial focus of this study was an analysis of the structure, tissue-specific expression, and exon evolution of the rat NT/N gene. Nucleotide sequence comparisons between the rat gene and the canine and bovine cDNA sequences indicated that the predicted structure of a 170 amino acid precursor protein is highly conserved. Furthermore, the close similarity between the two cDNAs suggested that identical precursor proteins are expressed in neural and endocrine tissues. RNA analysis revealed that the gene is transcribed to yield two distinct mRNAs, 1.0 kb and 1.5 kb in size. The two mRNA species differ only in the size of their 3' untranslated regions. Interestingly, the smaller mRNA is predominant in the gastrointestinal tract, while both mRNAs are equally abundant in all neural tissues examined, except the cerebellum, where no expression was observed.

Transient transfection assays were used to delineate the rat NT/N gene cis-regulatory DNA sequences. Progressive deletion of the NT/N 5' flanking region revealed that sequences between -216 and +56 of the NT/N gene are sufficient to confer the full spectrum of responses of the endogenous gene to either of two reporter genes. A detailed mutational analysis of the NT/N control region indicated that it is composed of an array of inducible cis-regulatory elements, including an AP-1 site, two cAMP-responsive elements (CREs), and a glucocorticoid-responsive element (GRE). Specific mutations to the AP-1 site and either CRE suggested that these elements are functionally interdependent. I propose that this array of cis-regulatory sequences in the NT/N transcriptional control region serves to integrate multiple environmental stimuli into a unified transcriptional response.

To further examine the role of the AP-1 site and CREs in the NT/N promoter, reporter genes containing either a single or multiple AP-1 or CRE sites were expressed in PC12 cells and protein kinase A-deficient PC12 cells treated with forskolin, NGF, and lithium, either individually, or in combination. The results indicated that lithium and NGF markedly activate promoters containing multiple AP-1 sites, but not a single site, and that these effects were additive. Both agents potentiated forskolin-induced activation of promoters containing a single or multiple CREs, but had no effect, individually. Also, in contrast to the activation of multiple AP-1 sites by lithium and NGF, activation of the NT/N promoter and promoters containing CREs is absolutely dependent on protein kinase A activity. These results suggested that promoters containing multiple AP-1 sites, or a single AP-1 site in the context of nearby active CREs, are selectively activated by lithium and NGF in PC12 cells.

Based on the results of this thesis I have proposed a model to account for the complex transcriptional regulation of the NT/N gene in PC12 cells. I have also addressed the relevance of these findings to the mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity of embryonic neural crest cells, NGF-induced neuronal differentiation, and the pharmacological actions of lithium.


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