The human CYP19 (aromatase P450) gene: Update on physiologic roles and genomic organization of promoters

Serdar E. Bulun*, Siby Sebastian, Kazuto Takayama, Takashi Suzuki, Hironobu Sasano, Makio Shozu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

270 Scopus citations


The human CYP19 (P450arom) gene is located in the chromosome 15q21.2 region and is comprised of a 30kb coding region and a 93kb regulatory region. The Internet-based Human Genome Project data enabled us to elucidate its complex organization. The unusually large regulatory region contains 10 tissue-specific promoters that are alternatively used in various cell types. Each promoter is regulated by a distinct set of regulatory sequences in DNA and transcription factors that bind to these specific sequences. In most mammals, P450arom expression is under the control of gonad- and brain-specific promoters. In the human, however, there are at least eight additional promoters that seemed to have been recruited throughout the evolution possibly via alterations in DNA. One of the key mechanisms that permit the recruitment of such a large number of promoters seems to be the extremely promiscuous nature of the common splice acceptor site, since activation of each promoter gives rise splicing of an untranslated first exon onto this common junction immediately upstream of the translation start site in the coding region. These partially tissue-specific promoters are used in the gonads, bone, brain, vascular tissue, adipose tissue, skin, fetal liver and placenta for physiologic estrogen biosynthesis. The most recently characterized promoter (I.7) was cloned by analyzing P450arom mRNA in breast cancer tissue. This TATA-less promoter accounts for the transcription of 29-54% of P450arom mRNAs in breast cancer tissues and contains endothelial-type cis-acting elements that interact with endothelial-type transcription factors, e.g. GATA-2. We hypothesize that this promoter may upregulate aromatase expression in vascular endothelial cells. The in vivo cellular distribution and physiologic roles of promoter I.7 in healthy tissues, however, are not known. The gonads use the proximally located promoter II. The normal breast adipose tissue, on the other hand, maintains low levels of aromatase expression primarily via promoter I.4 that lies 73kb upstream of the common coding region. Promoters I.3 and II are used only minimally in normal breast adipose tissue. Promoters II and I.3 activities in the breast cancer, however, are strikingly increased. Additionally, the endothelial-type promoter I.7 is also upregulated in breast cancer. Thus, it appears that the prototype estrogen-dependent malignancy breast cancer takes advantage of four promoters (II, I.3, I.7 and I.4) for aromatase expression. The sum of P450arom mRNA species arising from these four promoters markedly increase total P450arom mRNA levels in breast cancer compared with the normal breast.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-224
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number3-5
StatePublished - Sep 2003


  • Adipose tissue
  • Alternative transcription
  • Aromatase
  • Brain
  • Breast cancer
  • CYP19
  • Chromosome 15q21.2
  • Endometriosis
  • Estrogen
  • Human genome project
  • Ovary
  • Placenta
  • Skin
  • Tissue-specific promoters
  • Vascular endothelial cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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