CREB [CRE (cAMP-response element)-binding protein] is an important transcription factor that is differentially regulated in cells of various types. We recently reported that RA (retinoic acid) rapidly activates CREB without using RARs (RA receptors) or RXRs (retinoid X receptors) in NHTBE cells (normal human tracheobronchial epithelial cells). However, little is known about the role of RA in the physiological regulation of CREB expression in the early mucous differentiation of NHTBE cells. In the present study, we report that RA up-regulates CREB gene expression and that, using 5′-serial deletion promoter analysis and mutagenesis analyses, two Sp1 (specificity protein 1)-binding sites located at nt −217 and −150, which flank the transcription initiation site, are essential for RA induction of CREB gene transcription. Furthermore, we found that CREs located at nt −119 and −98 contributed to basal promoter activity. Interestingly, RA also up-regulated Sp1 in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Knockdown of endogenous Sp1 using siRNA (small interfering RNA) decreased RA-induced CREB gene expression. However, the converse was not true: knockdown of CREB using CREB siRNA did not affect RA-induced Sp1 gene expression. We conclude that RA up-regulates CREB gene expression during the early stage of NHTBE cell differentiation and that RA-inducible Sp1 plays a major role in up-regulating human CREB gene expression. This result implies that co-operation of these two transcription factors plays a crucial role in mediating early events of normal mucous cell differentiation of bronchial epithelial cells.

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