The orphan nuclear receptor Ad4BP/SF-1 (adrenal 4 binding protein/steroidogenic factor 1) is essential for the proper development and function of reproductive and steroidogenic tissues. Although the expression of Ad4BP/SF-1 is specific for those tissues, the mechanisms underlying this tissue-specific expression remain unknown. In this study, we used transgenic mouse assays to examine the regulation of the tissue-specific expression of Ad4BP/SF-1. An investigation of the entire Ad4BP/SF-1 gene locus revealed a fetal adrenal enhancer (FAdE) in intron 4 containing highly conserved binding sites for Pbx-Prep, Pbx-Hox, and Ad4BP/SF-1. Transgenic assays revealed that the Ad4 sites, together with Ad4BP/SF-1, develop an autoregulatory loop and thereby maintain transcription, while the Pbx/Prep and Pbx/Hox sites initiate transcription prior to the establishment of the autoregulatory loop. Indeed, a limited number of Hox family members were found to be expressed in the adrenal primordia. Whether a true fetal-type adrenal cortex is present in mice remained controversial, and this argument was complicated by the postnatal development of the so-called X zone. Using transgenic mice with lacZ driven by the FAdE, we clearly identified a fetal adrenal cortex in mice, and the X zone is the fetal adrenal cells accumulated at the juxtamedullary region after birth.
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