TTF-1 [thyroid transcription factor-1; also known as Nkx2.1, T/EBP (thyroid-specific-enhancer-binding protein) or TITF1] is a homeodomain-containing transcription factor essential for the morphogenesis and differentiation of the thyroid, lung and ventral forebrain. TTF-1 controls the expression of select genes in the thyroid, lung and the central nervous system. In the lung, TTF-1 controls the expression of surfactant proteins that are essential for lung stability and lung host defence. Human TTF-1 is encoded by a single gene located on chromosome 14 and is organized into two/three exons and one/two introns. Multiple transcription start sites and alternative splicing produce mRNAs with heterogeneity at the 5′ end. The 3′ end of the TTF-1 mRNA is characterized by a rather long untranslated region. The amino acid sequences of TTF-1 from human, rat, mouse and other species are very similar, indicating a high degree of sequence conservation. TTF-1 promoter activity is maintained by the combinatorial or co-operative actions of HNF-3 [hepatocyte nuclear factor-3; also known as FOXA (forkhead box A)], Sp (specificity protein) 1, Sp3, GATA-6 and HOXB3 (homeobox B3) transcription factors. There is limited information on the regulation of TTF-1 gene expression by hormones, cytokines and other biological agents. Glucocorticoids, cAMP and TGF-β (transforming growth factor-β) have stimulatory effects on TTF-1 expression, whereas TNF-α (tumour necrosis factor-α) and ceramide have inhibitory effects on TTF-1 DNA-binding activity in lung cells. Haplo-insufficiency of TTF-1 in humans causes hypothyroidism, respiratory dysfunction and recurring pulmonary infections, underlining the importance of optimal TTF-1 levels for the maintenance of thyroid and lung function. Recent studies have implicated TTF-1 as a lineage-specific proto-oncogene for lung cancer.

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