Both copies of a repeated sequence CATT(A/T), located between bp -53 and -39 in the upstream region of the human GM-CSF gene, are required for mitogen-inducible promoter activity in T lymphocytes. However, the proteins that recognize this region of the granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) promoter, and are responsible for its transcriptional regulatory activity, have not been clearly identified. Using transient transfection assays, we demonstrate that a 19-bp oligonucleotide containing the CATT(A/T) repeats has strong constitutive enhancer activity in both T cell and non-T-cell lines, even though GM-CSF is not normally constitutively expressed by these cells. A 12-bp oligonucleotide, containing only the sequence CATTAATCATTT, lacks enhancer activity indicating that the nucleotides surrounding these sequences are critical for this enhancer activity. The sequence TTTCCT, which can bind members of the ets family of transcription factors, is located just 3′ of these CATT(A/T) repeats, and mutagenesis of the CCT sequence abolishes (1) the constitutive (and mitogen inducible) enhancer activity of the 19-bp GM-CSF sequences, (2) the responsiveness to transactivation by ets-1, and (3) the ability to specifically bind ets-1 and elf-1 in electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSA). We demonstrate that although T cells contain nuclear proteins capable of independently recognizing the ets binding site and the CATT(A/T) repeats in EMSAs, both of these regulatory elements are required for enhancer function. The strong constitutive activity of this 19-bp region suggests that negative regulation of the GM-CSF promoter is critical for the restricted expression pattern of GM-CSF mRNA.

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