Transfection analyses of the human nidogen promoter region in nidogen-producing fibroblasts from adult skin revealed multiple positive and negative cis-acting elements controlling nidogen gene expression. Characterization of the positive regulatory domains by gel mobility-shift assays and co-transfection studies in Drosophila SL2 cells unequivocally demonstrated that Sp1-like transcription factors are essential for a high expression of the human nidogen gene. Analysis of the negative regulatory domains identified a novel silencer element between nt -1333 and -1322, which is bound by a distinct nuclear factor, by using extracts from adult but not from embryonal fibroblasts. In embryonal fibroblasts, which express significantly higher amounts of nidogen mRNA as compared with adult fibroblasts, this inhibitory nidogen promoter region did not affect nidogen and SV40 promoter activities. The silencer element seems to be active only in nidogen-producing cells. Therefore this regulatory element might function in vivo to limit nidogen gene expression in response to external stimuli. However, none of the identified regulatory elements, including the silencer, contribute significantly to cell-specific expression of the human nidogen gene. Instead we provide evidence that gene expression in epidermal keratinocytes that are not producing nidogen is repressed by methylation-specific and chromatin-dependent mechanisms.

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