The microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (Mitf) has emerged as an important model for gene regulation in eukaryotic organisms. In vertebrates, it regulates the development of several cell types including melanocytes and has also been shown to play an important role in melanoma. In vitro, the activity of MITF is regulated by multiple signaling pathways, including the KITL/KIT/B-Raf pathway, which results in phosphorylation of MITF on serine residues 73 and 409. However, the precise role of signaling to MITF in vivo remains largely unknown. Here, we use a BAC transgene rescue approach to introduce specific mutations in MITF to study the importance of specific phospho-acceptor sites and protein domains. We show that mice that carry a BAC transgene where single-amino-acid substitutions have been made in the Mitf gene rescue the phenotype of the loss-of-function mutations in Mitf. This may indicate that signaling from KIT to MITF affects other phospho-acceptor sites in MITF or that alternative sites can be phosphorylated when Ser73 and Ser409 have been mutated. Our results have implications for understanding signaling to transcription factors. Furthermore, as MITF and signaling mechanisms have been shown to play an important role in melanomas, our findings may lead to novel insights into this resilient disease.
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