We have previously shown that COUP-TFII and Ear-2, two members of the nuclear orphan receptor family, are able to repress oestrogen-stimulated transcriptional activity of the human oxytocin (OT) gene promoter by binding to a site that overlaps with the oestrogen response element (ERE) present in the 5' flanking region of the gene. Although most nuclear receptor-mediated transcriptional repression conforms with the paradigm of passive repression and involves competitive binding to an activator site, active repression, i.e. silencing of basal promoter activity, has been observed in a limited number of cases. Here we show by co-transfection experiments using COUP-TFII and Ear-2 expression vectors and reporter constructs containing OT gene promoter fragments linked to the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase gene that both COUP-TFII and Ear-2 are capable of silencing basal OT gene promoter activity by 54 and 75% respectively. 5' Deletion and footprint analyses revealed two areas of functionally important interaction sites: (1) a direct TGACC(T/C) repeat overlapping the ERE and (2) a more promoter-proximal area centred at - 90 containing three imperfect direct repeats (R1-R3) spaced by four nucleotides each. Mutagenesis of reporter constructs as well as electrophoretic mobility-shift assays demonstrated that each of the three proximal repeats R1-R3 contributed to orphan receptor binding and the silencing effect. Inasmuch as the orphan receptor-binding sites are not involved in mediating basal transcriptional activity of the OT gene promoter, the observed effects are best interpreted as active repression or promoter silencing. Moreover, since COUP-TFII and Ear-2 are both co-expressed in OT-expressing uterine epithelial cells, the novel transcriptional effects described here are likely to be of functional importance in the fine-tuning of uterine OT gene expression in vivo.
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