Using mouse Ltk- cells (L13-17 cells) that had been transfected with a plasmid in which the lacZ gene had been ligated downstream of 1.4 kbp of the sequence of the promoter of the mouse gene for metallothionein-I (MT-I) as a reporter gene, we examined 268 organic compounds for the ability to activate this promoter. We found that PF1070A, an antibiotic produced by Humicola sp., efficiently activated the MT promoter and caused marked enhancement of β- galactosidase activity in L13-17 cells. The extent of activation by PF1070A was almost equivalent to that by of zinc ions, the most effective known inducer of the synthesis of MT. PF1070A also caused marked elevation of the levels of the mRNA for MT and of MT itself in L13-17 cells. A similar result was obtained in human HeLa-S3 cells. When PF1070A was added to the culture medium simultaneously with cadmium ion or dexamethasone, the level of expression of the reporter gene was markedly elevated, compared to the level of expression induced by each agent independently. The effect of PF1070A was reduced considerably by deletion of nucleotides at positions -150 and -149 from the site of initiation of transcription in the promoter region of the MT gene and also by deletion of the seven bases located at positions -49 to - 43. Since no known cis element was found in these two regions, PF1070A might be a new type of inducer of MT synthesis that promotes expression of the gene for MT via a mechanism completely different from those exploited by other known agents. These results also suggest the presence of a system for control of transcription of the gene for MT that has not previously been recognized. Both cadmium ions and bismuth ions induce the synthesis of MT by acting on the metal response element (MRE). Bismuth ions had no significant effect on the promoter activity that had already reached a maximum level in response to treatment with the optimal concentration of cadmium ion. By contrast, PF1070A further and markedly increased the promoter activity. This result suggests that it is possible to increase the concentration of MT in tissue using PF1070A as an inducer even in cases where the MRE-mediated activation of the MT promoter has already been induced by the accumulation of cadmium, as is the case in a clinical setting. PF1070A may prove to be an excellent inducer of MT synthesis that is effective and clinically applicable. Moreover, use of PF1070A in combination with salts of heavy metals might be useful in controlling expression of a transfected gene that is regulated by the MT promoter since PF1070A can activate the MT promoter to an extent that cannot be achieved with heavy metal ions alone, when PF1070A is used in combination with zinc ions at a concentration of the latter considerably below the toxic level.
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