The genes coding for the two type I collagen chains, which are active selectively in osteoblasts, odontoblasts, fibroblasts, and some mesenchymal cells, constitute good models for studying the mechanisms responsible for the cell-specific activity of genes which are expressed in a small number of discrete cell types. To test whether separate genetic elements could direct the activity of the mouse pro-alpha 1(I) collagen gene to different cell types in which it is expressed, transgenic mice were generated harboring various fragments of the proximal promoter of this gene cloned upstream of the Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase gene. During embryonic development, X-gal staining allows for the precise identification of the different cell types in which the beta-galactosidase gene is active. Transgenic mice harboring 900 bp of the pro-alpha 1(I) proximal promoter expressed the transgene at relatively low levels almost exclusively in skin. In mice containing 2.3 kb of this proximal promoter, the transgene was also expressed at high levels in osteoblasts and odontoblasts, but not in other type I collagen-producing cells. Transgenic mice harboring 3.2 kb of the proximal promoter showed an additional high level expression of the transgene in tendon and fascia fibroblasts. The pattern of expression of the lacZ transgene directed by the 0.9- and 2.3-kb pro-alpha 1(I) proximal promoters was confirmed by using the firefly luciferase gene as a reporter gene. The pattern of expression of this transgene, which can be detected even when it is active at very low levels, paralleled that of the beta-galactosidase gene. These data strongly suggest a modular arrangement of separate cell-specific cis-acting elements that can activate the mouse pro-alpha(I) collagen gene in different type I collagen-producing cells. At least three different types of cell-specific elements would be located in the first 3.2 kb of the promoter: (a) an element that confers low level expression in dermal fibroblasts; (b) a second that mediates high level expression in osteoblasts and odontoblasts; and (c) one responsible for high level expression in tendon and fascia fibroblasts. Our data also imply that other cis-acting cell-specific elements which direct activity of the gene to still other type I collagen-producing cells remain to be identified.

This content is only available as a PDF.