Clusterin/apoJ is an intriguing gene frequently isolated by differential screening in laboratories from different areas of molecular biology, since it is overexpressed in numerous cases of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and scrapie. While the dramatic increase of clusterin expression in injured tissues is well established, the molecular basis of the gene induction remains unclear. In this study, we have focused our attention on the only DNA region strictly conserved between clusterin gene proximal promoters from different vertebrate classes. We show that this 14-bp DNA element is specifically recognized by the HSF1 transcription factor and can mediate heat-shock-induced transcription in transient expression assays. Conversely, the avian clusterin proximal promoter, point-mutated at the level of this element, no longer transmits heat-shock activation. These findings provide a possible explanation for the high sensitivity of clusterin expression to environmental changes and allow the classification of clusterin as an extracellular version of heat-shock protein.

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