Activation of β-catenin, the central effector of the canonical wingless-type (Wnt) pathway, has been implicated in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the transcription regulation mechanism of the β-catenin gene in HCC remains unknown. Here we report that human zinc finger protein 191 (ZNF191) is a potential regulator of β-catenin transcription. ZNF191, a Krüppel-like protein, specifically interacts with the TCAT motif, which constitutes the HUMTH01 microsatellite in the tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) gene ex vivo. We demonstrate that ZNF191 is significantly overexpressed in human HCC specimens and is associated with growth of human HCC cells. Global profiling of gene expression in ZNF191 knockdown human hepatic L02 cells revealed that the important Wnt signal pathway genes β-catenin and cyclin D1 messenger RNAs (mRNAs) are significantly down-regulated. In agreement with transcription level, β-catenin and cyclin D1 proteins are also down-regulated in transient and stable ZNF191 knockdown L02 and hepatoma Hep3B cell lines. Moreover, significant correlation between ZNF191 and β-catenin mRNA expression was detected in human HCCs. Promoter luciferase assay indicated that ZNF191 can increase transcription activity of the full-length β-catenin (CTNNB1) promoter, and nucleotide (nt)-1407/-907 of the CTNNB1 promoter exhibited the maximum transcriptional activity. Electrophoretic mobility shift assay showed that purified ZNF191 protein can directly bind to the CTNNB1 promoter, and the binding region is located at nt-1254/-1224. Finally, we demonstrate that the key binding sequence of ZNF191 in vivo is ATTAATT. Conclusion: ZNF191 can directly bind to the CTNNB1 promoter and activate the expression of β-catenin and its downstream target genes such as cyclin D1 in hepatoma cell lines. This study uncovers a new molecular mechanism of transcription regulation of the β-catenin gene in HCC.
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