Transcription of the serum albumin gene occurs almost exclusively in the liver and is controlled in part by a strong liver-specific promoter. The upstream region of the serum albumin gene promoter is highly conserved among species and is footprinted in vitro by a number of nuclear proteins. However, the role of the upstream promoter region in regulating transcription and the identity of the transcription factors that bind to this region have not been established. In the present study, deletion analysis of the rat serum albumin promoter in transiently transfected HepG2 cells demonstrated that elimination of the region between -207 and -153 bp caused a two-fold decrease in promoter activity (P< 0.05). Additional analysis of the -207 to -124 bp promoter interval led to the identification of two potential binding sites for hepatocyte nuclear factor-3 (HNF-3) located at -168 to -157 bp (site X) and -145 to -134 bp (site Y). Electrophoretic mobility-shift assays performed with the HNF-3 X and Y sites demonstrated that both sites are capable of binding HNF-3α and HNF-3β. Placement of a single copy of the HNF-3 X site upstream from a minimal promoter increased promoter activity by about four-fold in HepG2 cells, and the reporter construct containing this site could be transactivated if co-transfected with an HNF-3 expression construct. Furthermore, inactivation of the HNF-3 X site by site-directed mutagenesis within the context of the -261 bp albumin promoter construct resulted in a 40% decrease in transcription (P< 0.05). These results indicate that the positive effect of the -207 to -153 bp promoter interval is attributable to the presence of the HNF-3 X site within this interval. Additional results obtained with transfected HepG2 cells suggest that the HNF-3 Y site plays a lesser role in activation of transcription than the X site.

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