Serum response factor and the (CC(A/T)6GG) (CArG) box interact to promote the transcription of c-fos and muscle genes; this tissue-specific activity may require co-regulators for serum response factor. The α1 integrin promoter contains two cis-elements besides the CArG box: a TAAT sequence, a consensus binding site for homeoproteins, and a GATA-binding box. As a candidate TAAT-binding factor, we cloned an NK family homeobox gene, Nkx-3.2, which is expressed mainly in smooth muscle tissues and skeletal structures. Nkx-3.2, serum response factor, and GATA-6 were co-expressed only in the medial smooth muscle layer of arteries. These three transcription factors formed a complex with their corresponding cis-elements and cooperatively transactivated smooth muscle genes, including α1 integrin, SM22α, and caldesmon. Cardiac muscle-specific members of the NK and GATA families exist, and the triad of Nkx-2.5, serum response factor, and GATA-4 also transactivated the cardiac atrial natriuretic factor gene, which contains a CArG-like box, a GATA-binding box, and an NK-binding element. Our findings demonstrate that smooth and cardiac muscle have a shared transcriptional machinery and that the GATA and NK families confer muscle specificity on the serum response factor/CArG interaction.
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