Steroidogenic factor 1 (SF-1) is an orphan nuclear receptor that is important for expression of genes involved in sexual differentiation, testicular and adrenal development, and hormone synthesis and regulation. To better understand the mechanisms required for SF-1 production, we employed transient transfection analysis and electrophoretic mobility shift assays to characterize the elements and proteins required for transcriptional activity of the SF-1 proximal promoter in testicular Sertoli and Leydig cells and adrenocortical cells. Direct comparison of SF-1-promoter activity in testis and adrenal cell types established that a similar set of regulatory elements (an E box, CCAAT box, and Sp1-binding sites) is required for proximal promoter activity in these cells. Further evaluation of the E box and CCAAT box revealed a novel synergism between the two elements and identified functionally important bases within the elements. Importantly, DNA/protein-binding studies uncovered new proteins interacting with the E box and CCAAT box. Thus, in addition to the previously identified USF and NF-Y proteins, newly described complexes, having migration properties that differed between Sertoli and Leydig cells, were observed bound to the E box and CCAAT box. Transient transfection analysis also identified several Sp1/Sp3-binding elements important for expression of SF-1 in the testis, one of which was previously described for expression in the adrenal gland whereas the other two were newly disclosed elements.
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