Intercalated cells are highly specialized cells within the renal collecting duct epithelium and play an important role in systemic acid–base homoeostasis. Whereas type A intercalated cells secrete protons via an apically localized H+-ATPase, type B intercalated cells secrete HCO3. Type B intercalated cells specifically express the HCO3/Cl exchanger AE4 (anion exchanger 4), encoded by Slc4a9. Mice with a targeted disruption of the gene for the forkhead transcription factor Foxi1 display renal tubular acidosis due to an intercalated cell-differentiation defect. Collecting duct cells in these mice are characterized by the absence of inter-calated cell markers including AE4. To test whether Slc4a9 is a direct target gene of Foxi1, an AE4 promoter construct was generated for a cell-based reporter gene assay. Co-transfection with the Foxi1 cDNA resulted in an approx. 100-fold activation of the AE4 promoter construct. By truncating the AE4 promoter at the 5′-end, we demonstrate that a fragment of approx. 462 bp upstream of the transcription start point is sufficient to mediate activation by Foxi1. Sequence analysis of this region revealed at least eight potential binding sites for Foxi1 in both sense and antisense orientation. Only one element was bound by recombinant Foxi1 protein in bandshift assays. Mutation of this site abolished both binding in bandshift assays and transcriptional activation by co-transfection of Foxi1 in the reporter gene assay. We thus identify the AE4 promoter as a direct target of Foxi1.

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