The activator protein 1 (AP-1) transcription factor is composed of heterodimers of the Fos/activating transcription factor (ATF) and Jun subfamilies of basic-region leucine-zipper (B-ZIP) proteins. In order to determine the identities of individual B-ZIP proteins in various AP-1 complexes we tested the effect of dominant-negative mutants to the B-ZIP proteins c-Fos, ATF2, ATF4 and CCAAT-enhancer-binding protein (C/EBP) on the activities of the collagenase and c-Jun promoters. These dominant-negative mutants inhibit DNA binding of wild-type B-ZIP proteins in a leucine-zipper-dependent fashion. Transcription of a collagenase promoter/reporter gene was induced in HepG2 hepatoma cells by expression of c-Fos and c-Jun, administration of PMA (‘TPA’) or by expression of a truncated form of MEK (mitogen-activated/extracellular-signal-regulated kinase kinase) kinase-1, MEKK1Δ. In all cases, the dominant-negative mutants A-Fos and A-ATF2 decreased collagenase promoter activity. However, A-ATF4 and A-C/EBP had no effect. A-Fos and A-ATF2 also reduced MEKK1Δ-induced stimulation of the c-Jun promoter. In contrast, constitutive c-Jun promoter activity was blocked solely by A-ATF2, strongly suggesting that ATF2 and/or an ATF2-dimerizing protein are of major importance for c-Jun transcription in unstimulated cells. These results demonstrate that AP-1 transcription factors of different compositions control c-jun gene transcription in resting or stimulated cells.

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