The Caenorhabditis elegans vitellogenin genes are subject to sex-, stage-, and tissue-specific regulation: they are expressed solely in the adult hermaphrodite intestine. Comparative sequence analysis of the DNA immediately upstream of these genes revealed the presence of two repeated heptameric elements, vit promoter element 1 (VPE1) and VPE2. VPE1 has the consensus sequence TGTCAAT, while VPE2, CTGATAA, shares the recognition sequence of the GATA family of transcription factors. We report here a functional analysis of the VPEs within the 5'-flanking region of the vit-2 gene using stable transgenic lines. The 247 upstream bp containing the VPEs was sufficient for high-level, regulated expression. Furthermore, none of the four deletion mutations or eight point mutations tested resulted in expression of the reporter gene in larvae, males, or inappropriate hermaphrodite tissues. Mutation of the VPE1 closest to the TATA box inactivated the promoter, in spite of the fact that four additional close matches to the VPE1 consensus sequence are present within the 5'-flanking 200 bp. Each of these upstream VPE1-like sequences could be mutated without loss of high-level transgene expression, suggesting that if these VPE1 sequences play a role in regulating vit-2, their effects are more subtle. A site-directed mutation in the overlapping VPE1 and VPE2 at -98 was sufficient to inactivate the promoter, indicating that one or both of these VPEs must be present for activation of vit-2 transcription. Similarly, a small perturbation of the VPE2 at -150 resulted in reduction of fp155 expression, while a more extensive mutation in this element eliminated expression. On the other hand, deletion of this VPE2 and all upstream DNA still permitted correctly regulated expression, although at a very low level, suggesting that this VPE2 performs an important role in activation of vit-2 expression but may not be absolutely required. The results, taken together, demonstrate that both VPE1 and VPE2 are sites for activation of the vit-2 promoter.
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