The MB1 regulatory sequence of the myelin basic protein (MBP) gene spanning between nucleotides -14 to -50 with respect to the transcription start site is critical for cell type-specific transcription of the MBP gene, which encodes the major protein component of myelin sheath in cells derived from the central nervous system (CNS). This regulatory sequence has the ability to interact with a developmentally controlled DNA-binding protein from mouse brain that stimulates transcription of MBP promoter in an in vitro system (Haas, S., J. Gordon, and K. Khalili. 1993. Mol. Cell. Biol. 13:3103-3112). Here, we report the purification of a 39-kD protein from mouse brain tissue at the peak of myelination and MBP production that binds to the MB1 regulatory motif. Following partial amino acid sequence analysis, we have identified a complementary DNA encoding a 39-kD DNA-binding protein called pur alpha. Expression of pur alpha cDNA in the prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells resulted in the synthesis of a protein with characteristics similar to the purified brain-derived 39-kD protein in band shift competition assays. Cotransfection of the recombinant pur alpha expressor plasmid with MBP promoter construct indicated that Pur alpha stimulates transcription of the MBP promoter in oligodendrocytic cells, and that the nucleotide sequence required for binding of the 39-kD Pur alpha to DNA within the MB1 region is crucial for this activity. Moreover, transient expression of Pur alpha caused elevation in the level of endogenous MBP RNA in oligodendrocytic cells. Thus, Pur alpha, a sequence-specific DNA-binding protein upon binding to MB1 regulatory region may play a significant role in determining the cell type-specific expression of MBP in brain.

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