SHP (small heterodimer partner) is a well-known NR (nuclear receptor) co-regulator. In the present study, we have identified a new SHP-interacting protein, termed SMILE (SHP-interacting leucine zipper protein), which was previously designated as ZF (Zhangfei) via a yeast two-hybrid system. We have determined that the SMILE gene generates two isoforms [SMILE-L (long isoform of SMILE) and SMILE-S (short isoform of SMILE)]. Mutational analysis has demonstrated that the SMILE isoforms arise from the alternative usage of initiation codons. We have confirmed the in vivo interaction and co-localization of the SMILE isoforms and SHP. Domain-mapping analysis indicates that the entire N-terminus of SHP and the middle region of SMILE-L are involved in this interaction. Interestingly, the SMILE isoforms counteract the SHP repressive effect on the transactivation of ERs (estrogen receptors) in HEK-293T cells (human embryonic kidney cells expressing the large T-antigen of simian virus 40), but enhance the SHP-repressive effect in MCF-7, T47D and MDA-MB-435 cells. Knockdown of SMILE gene expression using siRNA (small interfering RNA) in MCF-7 cells increases ER-mediated transcriptional activity. Moreover, adenovirus-mediated overexpression of SMILE and SHP down-regulates estrogen-induced mRNA expression of the critical cell-cycle regulator E2F1. Collectively, these results indicate that SMILE isoforms regulate the inhibition of ER transactivation by SHP in a cell-type-specific manner and act as a novel transcriptional co-regulator in ER signalling.

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