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Open Access Research

MUC1 gene overexpressed in breast cancer: structure and transcriptional activity of the MUC1 promoter and role of estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) in regulation of the MUC1 gene expression

Joseph Z Zaretsky1*, Itay Barnea1, Yael Aylon2, Marat Gorivodsky3, Daniel H Wreschner1 and Iafa Keydar1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cell Research and Immunology, Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv 69978, Israel

2 Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel

3 Laboratory of Mammalian Genes and Development, Section on Transgene Regulation, NICHD, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

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Molecular Cancer 2006, 5:57  doi:10.1186/1476-4598-5-57

Published: 5 November 2006

Abstract

Background

The MUC1 gene encodes a mucin glycoprotein(s) which is basally expressed in most epithelial cells. In breast adenocarcinoma and a variety of epithelial tumors its transcription is dramatically upregulated. Of particular relevance to breast cancer, steroid hormones also stimulate the expression of the MUC1 gene. The MUC1 gene directs expression of several protein isoforms, which participate in many crucial cell processes. Although the MUC1 gene plays a critical role in cell physiology and pathology, little is known about its promoter organization and transcriptional regulation. The goal of this study was to provide insight into the structure and transcriptional activity of the MUC1 promoter.

Results

Using TRANSFAC and TSSG soft-ware programs the transcription factor binding sites of the MUC1 promoter were analyzed and a map of transcription cis-elements was constructed. The effect of different MUC1 promoter regions on MUC1 gene expression was monitored. Different regions of the MUC1 promoter were analyzed for their ability to control expression of specific MUC1 isoforms. Differences in the expression of human MUC1 gene transfected into mouse cells (heterologous artificial system) compared to human cells (homologous natural system) were observed. The role of estrogen on MUC1 isoform expression in human breast cancer cells, MCF-7 and T47D, was also analyzed. It was shown for the first time that synthesis of MUC1/SEC is dependent on estrogen whereas expression of MUC1/TM did not demonstrate such dependence. Moreover, the estrogen receptor alpha, ERα, could bind in vitro estrogen responsive cis-elements, EREs, that are present in the MUC1 promoter. The potential roles of different regions of the MUC1 promoter and ER in regulation of MUC1 gene expression are discussed.

Conclusion

Analysis of the structure and transcriptional activity of the MUC1 promoter performed in this study helps to better understand the mechanisms controlling transcription of the MUC1 gene. The role of different regions of the MUC1 promoter in expression of the MUC1 isoforms and possible function of ERα in this process has been established. The data obtained in this study may help in development of molecular modalities for controlled regulation of the MUC1 gene thus contributing to progress in breast cancer gene therapy.