Transcriptional regulation and functional analysis of the Wilms' tumor gene WT1

Stephen Merrill Hewitt, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The Wilms' tumor gene, WT1, encodes a zinc finger transcription factor which functions as a tumor suppressor. Defects in the WT1 gene can result in the development of nephroblastoma. WT1 is expressed during development, primarily in the metanephric kidney, the mesothelial lining of the abdomen and thorax, and the developing gonads. WT1 expression is tightly regulated and is essential for renal development. The WT1 gene encodes a protein with a proline-rich N-terminus which functions as a transcriptional repressor and C-terminus contains 4 zinc fingers that mediate DNA binding. WT1 represses transcription from a number of growth factors and growth factor receptors. WT1 mRNA undergoes alternative splicing at two sites, resulting in 4 mRNA species and polypeptide products. Exon 5, encoding 17 amino acids is alternatively spliced, and is located between the transcriptional repression domain and the DNA binding domain. The second alternative splice is the terminal 9 nucleotides of zinc finger 3, encoding the tripeptide Lys-Thr-Ser (KTS). The presence or absence of KTS within the zinc fingers of WT1 alters DNA binding. I have investigated transcriptional regulation of WT1, characterizing two means of repressing WT1 transcription. I have cloned a transcriptional silencer of the WT1 promoter which is located in the third intron of the WT1 gene. The silencer is 460 bp in length and contains an Alu repeat. The silencer functions in cells of non-renal origin. I have found that WT1 protein can autoregulate the WT1 promoter. Using the autoregulation of the WT1 promoter as a functional assay, I have defined differential consensus DNA binding motifs of WT1 isoforms lacking and containing the KTS tripeptide insertion. With these refined consensus DNA binding motifs, I have identified two additional targets of WT1 transcriptional repression, the proto-oncogenes bcl-2 and c-myc. I have investigated the ability of the alternatively spliced exon 5 to influence cell growth. In cell proliferation assays, isoforms of WT1 lacking exon 5 repress cell growth. WT1 isoforms containing exon 5 fail to repress cell growth to the same extent, but alter the morphology of the cells. These experiments demonstrate that the alternative splice isoforms of WT1 have differential effects on the function of WT1. These findings suggest a role for the alternative splicing of WT1 in metanephric development.

Subject Area

Genetics|Molecular biology|Cellular biology

Recommended Citation

Hewitt, Stephen Merrill, "Transcriptional regulation and functional analysis of the Wilms' tumor gene WT1" (1995). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9601204.