The testis-specific linker histone H1t gene is transcribed exclusively in mid to late pachytene primary spermatocytes. Tissue-specific expression of the gene is mediated primarily through elements located within the proximal promoter. Previous work in transgenic animals identified a unique 40-base pair promoter element designated H1t/TE that is essential for spermatocyte-specific expression. The H1t/TE element contains three subelements designated TE2, GC-box, and TE1 based on in vitro footprinting and electrophoretic mobility shift assays. Because GC-box is a consensus site for binding of Sp transcription-factor family members, experiments were performed demonstrating that two Sp family members, Sp1 and Sp3, were present in testis cells from 9-day-old and adult rats and in pachytene primary spermatocytes and early spermatids. A 95- to 105-kDa form of Sp1 is most abundant in the tissues and cell lines examined, but a 60-kDa form of Sp1 is the most abundant species in spermatocytes and early spermatids. Further examination of Sp1 and Sp3 from adult testis, primary spermatocytes, and early spermatids showed that they can bind to the H1t/TE element. In order to determine the contributions of the subelements to H1t transcription, we mutated each of them in H1t promoter luciferase reporter vectors. Mutation of the GC-box and TE1 subelement reduced expression 77% and 49%, respectively, compared with the wild-type H1t promoter in transient expression assays in a testis GC-2spd cell line that was derived from germinal cells. These studies suggest that Sp transcription factors may be involved in transcription of the H1t gene and the GC-box and the TE1 subelement are required for activation of the H1t promoter.
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