Snail is a multifunctional transcriptional factor that has been described as a repressor in many different contexts. It is also proposed as an activator in a few cases relevant to tumor progression and cell-cycle arrest. This study investigated the detailed mechanisms by which Snail upregulates gene expression of the CDK inhibitor p15INK4b in HepG2 induced by the tumor promoter tetradecanoyl phorbol acetate (TPA). Using deletion mapping, the TPA-responsive element on the p15INK4b promoter was located between 77 and 228 bp upstream of the transcriptional initiation site, within which the putative binding regions of early growth response gene 1 (EGR-1) and stimulatory protein 1 (SP-1) were found. Gene expression of EGR-1, Snail and SP-1 can be induced by TPA within 0.5-6 h. In addition, basal levels of SP-1, but not of the other two transcriptional factors, were observed. Blockade of TPA-induced gene expression of Snail, EGR-1 or SP-1 suppressed activation of the p15-pro228 reporter plasmid harboring the TPA-responsive element. More detailed deletion mapping and site-directed mutagenesis further concluded that the overlapping EGR-1/SP-1-binding site was required for TPA-induced p15-pro228 activation. In an EMSA, a DNA-protein complex was elevated by TPA, which can be blocked by antibodies against EGR-1, SP-1 or Snail at 6 h. Immunoprecipitation/western blotting demonstrated that TPA could trigger the association of EGR-1 with Snail or SP-1. Furthermore, a double chromatin immunoprecipitation assay verified that EGR-1 could form a complex with Snail or SP-1 on the TPA-responsive element after treatment with TPA for 2-6 h. Finally, we demonstrated a novel Snail-target region which could be bound by Snail and was also required for TPA-induced p15-pro228 activation. In conclusion, Snail associates with EGR-1 and SP-1 to mediate TPA-induced transcriptional upregulation of p15 INK4b in HepG2.
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