Regulation of Spec genes in aboral ectoderm cells of sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus

Lin Gan, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The Spec genes of the sea urchin Stronylocentrotus purpuratus serves as an excellent model for studying cell type-specific gene expression during early embryogenesis. The Spec1/Spec2 genes encode cytosolic calcium-binding proteins related to the calmodulin/troponin C/myosin light chain superfamily. Members of the Spec gene family are activated shortly after the sixth cleavage as the lineage-specific founder cells giving rise to aboral ectoderm are established, and the accumulation of the Spec mRNAs is limited exclusively to aboral ectoderm cell lineages. In this dissertation, the transcriptional regulation of the Spec genes was studied. Sequence comparisons of the Spec gene 5$\sp\prime$ flanking regions showed that a DNA block of approximately 800 bp from the 3$\sp\prime$ end of the first exon to the 5$\sp\prime$ end of a repetitive DNA element, termed RSR, was highly conserved. In Spec2a, the conserved region was a continuous stretch of DNA, but in Spec1 and Spec2c, DNA insertions interrupt the conserved sequence block and alter the relative placement of the RSR element and other 5$\sp\prime$ flanking DNA. Thus, drastic rearrangements have occurred within the putative control regions of the Spec genes. In vivo expression experiments using the sea urchin embryo gene-transfer system showed that while the 5$\sp\prime$ flanking regions of all three Spec genes conferred proper temporal activation to the reporter CAT gene, only the Spec2a 5$\sp\prime$ flanking region could restrict lacZ gene expression to aboral ectoderm cells. However, the Spec2a conserved region alone was not sufficient to confer proper spatial expression, suggesting that negative spatial elements are also associated with the proper activation of Spec2a. A major positive regulatory region, defined as the RSR enhancer, was identified between base pairs $-$631 and $-$443 on Spec2a. The RSR enhancer was essential for maximal activity and conferred preferential aboral ectoderm expression to a lacZ reporter gene. DNaseI footprinting and band-shift analysis of the RSR enhancer revealed multiple DNA-elements. One of the elements, an A/T-rich sequence called the A/T palindrome was studied in detail. This element binds a single 45-kDa nuclear protein, the A/T palindrome binding protein (A/TBP), whose DNA-binding specificity suggests a possible relationship with the bicoid-class homeodomain proteins. Mutated A/T palindromes are incapable of binding the 45-kDa protein and lower promoter activity by 8-fold. DNA-binding activity for A/TBP is low in unfertilized eggs, increases by the 16-cell stage and continues rising in blastulae. These data suggest that A/TBP plays a major role in the activation of the Spec2a gene in aboral ectoderm cells.

Subject Area

Molecular biology

Recommended Citation

Gan, Lin, "Regulation of Spec genes in aboral ectoderm cells of sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus" (1992). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9307239.