The ERBB2 gene is overexpressed in 30% of human breast cancers and this is correlated with poor prognosis. Overexpression of the ERBB2 gene is due to increased transcription and gene amplification. Our previous studies have identified a new cis element in the ERBB2 promoter which is involved in the gene's overexpression. This cis element, located 501bp upstream from the main ERBB2 transcription initiation site, binds a transcription factor called HTF (HER2 transcription factor). We report here the identification of HTF as an AP-2 (activator protein-2) transcription factor. The new cis element is bound by AP-2 with high affinity, compared with a previously described AP-2 binding site located 284bp downstream. Co-transfection of an AP-2α expression vector with a reporter vector containing the newly identified AP-2 binding site in front of a minimal ERBB2 promoter induced a dose-dependent increase in transcriptional activity. We examined the contribution of the new AP-2 binding site to ERBB2 overexpression. For this purpose we abolished the new and/or the previously described AP-2 binding sequence by site-directed mutagenesis. The results show that the two functional AP-2 sites in the first 700bp of the ERBB2 promoter co-operate to achieve maximal transcriptional activity.

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