Type XI collagen is a structural component of the cartilage extracellular matrix and plays an important role in skeletal morphogenesis. As a step toward defining the molecular mechanisms responsible for the regulation of type XI collagen expression, we characterized the promoter region of the mouse alpha 2(XI) collagen gene (Coll1a2). We also generated transgenic mice harboring various fragments of the promoter and the first intron of Coll1a2 linked to the Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase gene to identify the cis-acting elements responsible for tissue- and site-specific expression during development. Cloning and sequence analysis of the 5' flanking region of Coll1a2 showed that the putative 3' end of the retinoid X receptor beta gene was located 742 bp upstream of the Coll1a2 start site. This suggested that the promoter region of Coll1a2 was localized within this 742-bp sequence, which contained multiple consensus regulatory elements. Examination of the transgenic mice revealed that the longest DNA construct (containing the entire promoter and first intron sequences) directed lacZ expression in the notochord as well as in the primordial cartilage throughout the body, with the pattern of expression mimicking that of endogenous Coll1a2 transcripts. On the other hand, deletion of the upstream approximately 290 bp resulted in the elimination of lacZ expression in the primordial cartilage of the carpals, tarsals, and vertebral bodies, whereas lacZ expression in the notochord and in the other primordial cartilage elsewhere was not affected. Deletion of the first intron sequence also resulted in the loss of lacZ expression in the primordial cartilage of the carpals, tarsals, and vertebral bodies, as well as in the notochord. These results demonstrate that the upstream 742-bp and first intron segments of the mouse Coll1a2 gene contain the necessary information to confer high level tissue-specific expression in mouse embryos. In addition, our observations suggest the presence of site-specific cis-acting elements that control Coll11a2 gene expression in different cartilaginous components of the skeleton.

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