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K Chu and HH Zingg

Although an increasing number of nuclear orphan receptors have recently been identified, the number of known naturally occurring genes that are directly regulated by orphan receptors is still small. We have shown previously that the gene encoding the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) is negatively regulated by the orphan receptors chicken ovalbumin upstream transcription factor I (COUP-TFI) and II. Here we show that the mouse OT gene promoter is activated by RORalpha, a representative of the ROR/RZR orphan receptor subfamily. Using promoter/chloramphenicol acetyltransferase reporter constructs in heterologous transfection assays, we determined that RORalpha action induces a <6-fold increase in promoter activity. By 5' and 3' deletion analysis, DNase footprint analysis and electrophoretic mobility shift assays, we found that RORalpha action is mediated by two 14 bp regions centered at 160 and 180 nucleotides upstream of the transcriptional initiation site. Both sites contain significant sequence identities with an established ROR recognition sequence. Mutations in either or both of these sites reduce significantly RORalpha-induced activation of the OT promoter. In view of the strong transcriptional activation exerted by RORalpha on the OT gene promoter and the widespread distribution of different members of the ROR/RZR family, interactions between ROR/RZR isoforms and the OT gene may form part of the multifactorial regulatory mechanisms that control OT gene expression in different tissues.

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D Devost and HH Zingg

The nonapeptide hormone oxytocin exerts many important biological functions, including uterine contractions during parturition and milk ejection during lactation. The manifold effects of oxytocin are mediated by a single oxytocin receptor (OTR) type, a member of the super-family of G-protein-coupled receptors. There is accumulating recent evidence that certain G-protein-coupled receptors exist in the form of oligomeric complexes. Here we demonstrate, using two different co-immunoprecipitation strategies as well as bioluminescence resonance energy transfer techniques, that the OTR is capable of forming oligomeric complexes in vivo and that these complexes exist at the cell surface membrane. The human OTR was N-terminally tagged with either a Myc or Flag epitope and transiently expressed in COS-7 cells. Cell lysates were immunoprecipitated using an anti-Flag antibody and analyzed by SDS-PAGE and Western blotting using an anti-Myc antibody, or vice versa. Either strategy provided evidence for the co-precipitation of Myc- or Flag-tagged OTR respectively.Biochemical characterization of OTR dimers showed that homodimer formation is not dependent on the establishment of disulfide bonds. The existence of OTR dimers and oligomers at the level of the cell surface was demonstrated by exposing intact living cells to an anti-Flag antibody and analyzing the immunoprecipitate by Western blotting with an anti-Myc antibody. This approach demonstrated furthermore that the presence of receptor oligomers at the cell surface is modulated by ligand in a time-dependent fashion. Finally, we obtained evidence that the OTR is forming oligomeric structures in intact living cells by observing the occurrence of bioluminescence resonance energy transfer in cells co-transfected with OTR constructs bearing at their C-terminus either a Renilla luciferase or the yellow fluorescent protein. Taken together, these data show that the OTR can form homodimers and oligomers in the cell model used and that these oligomers are present at the cell surface.

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K Chu and HH Zingg

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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C Breton, D Di Scala-Guenot and HH Zingg

The differential, tissue-specific regulation of oxytocin (OT) binding sites allows the neurohypophysial nonapeptide OT to fulfill a dual role: to induce uterine contractions at parturition and to mediate milk ejection during lactation. Whereas uterine OT binding sites are up-regulated prior to parturition and are rapidly down-regulated thereafter, mammary gland OT binding sites gradually increase throughout gestation and remain up-regulated during the ensuing lactation period. Here, we structurally characterized OT receptor (OTR) mRNA in mammary gland and analyzed its expression during gestation and lactation and in response to steroid treatment. In mammary gland tissues, we found a 6.7 and a 5.4 kb OTR mRNA species, and both species were further analyzed by RACE (rapid amplification of cDNA ends). The 6.7 kb mRNA was found to be common to mammary gland and uterus and to extend 618 nucleotides beyond the published sequence of the rat OTR gene. The 5.4 kb mRNA species is unique to the mammary gland and terminates at a mammary gland-specific polyadenylation site that is not preceded by a classical polyadenylation signal. RT-PCR analysis did not provide any evidence for differences in the coding regions, suggesting that both uterine and mammary gland OTR mRNAs encode the same receptor protein. Furthermore, primer extension experiments showed that no differences exist in the specific transcriptional initiation sites of the OTR gene in the two tissues. During pregnancy, OTR mRNA per mammary gland increased approximately 150-fold and remained high during lactation, consistent with the previously identified regulation of OT binding sites and the role of OT during lactation. Whereas estrogen administration strongly induced the uterine OTR mRNA levels (>5-fold), mammary gland remained unaffected by steroid treatment. Moreover, tamoxifen had no effect on the mammary gland OTR mRNA level. In summary, our data demonstrate a differential control of OTR expression in uterus versus mammary gland and a mammary gland-specific OTR mRNA polyadenylation site. However, this differential control apparently does not involve the expression of different receptor genes nor the utilization of tissue-specific transcriptional initiation sites.