Distal modular enhancer complex acts to control pituitary-and nervous system-specific expression of the LHX3 regulatory gene

Rachel D. Mullen, Soyoung Park, Simon J. Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Lin-11, Isl-1, and Mec-3 (LIM)-homeodomain (HD)-class transcription factors are critical for many aspects of mammalian organogenesis. Of these, LHX3 is essential for pituitary gland and nervous system development. Pediatric patients with mutations in coding regions of the LHX3 gene have complex syndromes, including combined pituitary hormone deficiency and nervous system defects resulting in symptoms such as dwarfism, thyroid insufficiency, infertility, and developmental delay. The pathways underlying early pituitary development are poorly understood, and the mechanisms by which the LHX3 gene is regulated in vivo are not known. Using bioinformatic and transgenic mouse approaches, we show that multiple conserved enhancers downstream of the human LHX3 gene direct expression to the developing pituitary and spinal cord in a pattern consistent with endogenous LHX3 expression. Several transferable cis elements can individually guide nervous system expression. However, a single 180-bp minimal enhancer is sufficient to confer specific expression in the developing pituitary. Within this sequence, tandem binding sites recognized by the islet-1 (ISL1) LIM-HD protein are essential for enhancer activity in the pituitary and spine, and a pituitary homeobox 1 (PITX1) bicoid class HD element is required for spatial patterning in the developing pituitary. This study establishes ISL1 as a novel transcriptional regulator of LHX3 and describes a potential mechanism for regulation by PITX1. Moreover, these studies suggest models for analyses of the transcriptional pathways coordinating the expression of other LIM-HD genes and provide tools for the molecular analysis and genetic counseling of pediatric patients with combined pituitary hormone deficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-319
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Endocrinology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology

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