The Microphthalmia gene product interacts with the retinoblastoma protein in vitro and is a target for deregulation of melanocyte-specific transcription.
Yavuzer U., Keenan E., Lowings P., Vachtenheim J., Currie G., Goding CR.
Little is known of the molecular mechanisms underlying the differentiation of the melanocyte from the melanoblast or the progression from the melanocyte to a malignant melanoma. Since the adenovirus E1A products have proved a useful tool for understanding control of differentiation in other systems, we explored the possibility of using E1A as a probe for factors controlling melanocyte-specific gene expression and differentiation. The results obtained show that the adenovirus E1A 13S, but not the 12S, product can transform the highly pigmented and TPA-dependent melanocyte cell line melan-a. Transformation is characterised by a morphological change, loss of TPA-dependence, the ability to grow in soft agar and strikingly, loss of pigmentation which correlates with loss of expression of the melanocyte-specific TRP-1 and tyrosinase genes. Cotransfection assays demonstrated that repression of TRP-1 by E1A correlated with E1A binding to p105Rb and p300, with the target in the TRP-1 promoter being the M-box, and 11 bp basic-Helix-loop-Helix (bHLH) factor-binding motif conserved between melanocyte-specific promoters. Consistent with the M-box acting as a target for E1a-mediated transcription repression, we also show that the basic-helix-loop-helix-leucine zipper (bHLH-LZ) protein (Mi) encoded by the microphthalmia gene (mi), which is required for pigment cell differentiation, is a positive acting transcription factor which can interact with the retinoblastoma product in vitro and activate the TRP-1 promoter. Moreover, expression of the mi gene was reduced around 50-fold in the non-pigmented E1a-transformed melan-a cells compared to the nontransformed melan-a cell line, with ectopic expression of Mi able to prevent repression of the tyrosinase and TRP-1 promoters in the presence of E1A. Mi therefore appears to play a crucial role in melanocyte-specific gene expression. The parallels between repression of myogenesis and muscle cell bHLH factors, and Mi and melanocyte differentiation are discussed.