The human vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) promoter contains a polypurine/polypyrimidine (pPu/pPy) tract that is known to play a critical role in its transcriptional regulation. This pPu/pPy tract undergoes a conformational transition between B-DNA, single-stranded DNA, and atypical secondary DNA structures such as G-quadruplexes and i-motifs. We studied the interaction of the cytosine-rich (C-rich) and guanine-rich (G-rich) strands of this tract with transcription factors heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) K and nucleolin, respectively, both in vitro and in vivo and their potential role in the transcriptional control of VEGF. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assay for our in vivo studies and electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) for our in vitro studies, we demonstrated that both nucleolin and hnRNP K bind selectively to the G- and C-rich sequences, respectively, in the pPu/pPy tract of the VEGF promoter. The small interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated silencing of either nucleolin or hnRNP K resulted in the down-regulation of basal VEGF gene, suggesting that they act as activators of VEGF transcription. Taken together, the identification of transcription factors that can recognize and bind to atypical DNA structures within the pPu/pPy tract will provide new insight into mechanisms of transcriptional regulation of the VEGF gene.
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