17β-Estradiol (E2) induces cathepsin D gene expression in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells and previous analyses of the proximal promoter region of this gene identified two functional enhancer sequences; namely an Sp1(N)23 estrogen-responsive element (ERE) half-site (-199 to -165) and an imperfect palindromic ERE (-119 to -107). A third region of the cathepsin D gene promoter (CD/L, -145 to -119) was also E2 responsive in transient transfection assays. A GC-rich sequence which contains two overlapping Sp1 binding sites (-145 to -135) was responsible for ER-mediated transactivation and required formation of an ER/Sp1 complex in which only the Sp1 protein bound DNA. E2 responsiveness of the CD/L sequence was also dependent on an adjacent overlapping GCGTG motif corresponding to the dioxin-responsive element (DRE) core binding sequence, which is the cognate response element for the heterodimeric aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR)/AhR nuclear translocator (ARNT) transcription factor complex. The results show that ER-mediated transactivation of CD/L was associated with the Sp1(N)2-4 DRE (core) motif and involved formation of a multiprotein ER/Sp1-AhR/ARNT complex. These results illustrate a unique example of an endogenous role for AhR/ARNT in the absence of added AhR agonist and indicate that the cathepsin D gene proximal promoter region contains at least three different functional motifs associated with ER-mediated transactivation.
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