The expression of aromatase is regulated in a tissue-specific fashion through alternative use of multiple promoter-specific first exons. To date, eight different first exons have been reported in human aromatase, namely I.1., I.2, I.3. I.4, I.5, PII, 2a, and 1f. Recently, we have found a new putative exon I in a RACE-generated library of THP-1 cells and have conducted studies to characterize this new exon I. We confirmed that the constructs containing -1552/+17 or less flanking sequence of this exon function as a promoter in THP-1 cells, JEG-3 cells and osteoblast-like cells obtained from a human fetus. Results of transfection assays using a series of deletion constructs and mutation constructs indicate that a 1-bp mismatch of the consensus TATA-like box (TTTAAT) and the consensus sequence of the initiator site, which is located 45 bp downstream of the putative TATA box, were functioning cooperatively as a core promoter. The putative transcription site was confirmed by the results of RT-PCR southern blot analysis. We examined the regulation and the expression of this exon, I.6, in several human cells and tissues by RT-PCR Southern blot analysis. THP-1 cells (mononuclear leukemic origin) and JEG-3 cells (choriocarcinoma origin) expressed exon I.6 in serum-free media. The level of expression was increased by serum and phorbol myristyl acetate (PMA) in both cell lines. Adipose stromal cells also expressed exon I.6 in the presence of PMA. In fetal osteoblasts, the expression of exon I.6 was increased most effectively by serum and less so by dexamethasone (DEX) + IL-1β and DEX + IL-11, whereas induction by serum was suppressed by the addition of DEX. The level of expression was low in granulosa cells in culture and did not change with forskolin. On the other hand, dibutyryl cAMP suppressed PMA-stimulated expression of exon I.6 in THP- 1 cells and adipose stromal cells. This result supports the hypothesis that the expression of exon I.6 is regulated mainly via an AP-1 binding site that is found upstream of the initiator site of the promoter region. Expression of exon I.6-specific transcripts was examined in several human tissues. Testis and bone obtained from normal adults expressed exon I.6. Testicular tumor and hepatic carcinoma expressed high levels of exon I.6, whereas granulosa cell tumor did not. Fetal liver and bone also showed a significant level of exon I.6 expression, but not so much as testicular tumor and hepatic tumor. Several splicing variants of exon I.6 were detected especially in THP-1 and JEG-3 cells, and to a lesser extent in primary cultures and tissue samples. These variants were identified as an unspliced form, a form spliced at the end of exon I.4, a form spliced at the end of exon I.3 (truncated) and a form spliced 220 bp downstream of the 3' end of exon 1.6. The last variant revealed a new splicing site. Because most of the splicing variants contain the sequence specific for exon I.3, RT-PCR specific for exon I.3 can coamplify these splicing variants of exon I.6 transcripts. These results suggests that it is necessary to examine the expression of I.6 in tissues that are known to express exon I.3 such as breast adipose tissue, in which promoter usage of exon I of the aromatase gene switches from exon I.4 to I.3 in the course of malignant transformation.
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