Background: Gene expression analyses have led to a better understanding of growth control of prostate cancer cells. We and others have identified the presence of several zinc finger transcription factors in the neoplastic prostate, suggesting a potential role for these genes in the regulation of the prostate cancer transcriptome. One of the transcription factors (TFs) identified in the prostate cancer epithelial cells was the Wilms tumor gene (WT1). To rapidly identify coordinately expressed prostate cancer growth control genes that may be regulated by WT1, we used an in silico approach. Results: Evolutionary conserved transcription factor binding sites (TFBS) recognized by WT1, EGR1, SP1, SP2, AP2 and GATA1 were identified in the promoters of 24 differentially expressed prostate cancer genes from eight mammalian species. To test the relationship between sequence conservation and function, chromatin of LNCaP prostate cancer and kidney 293 cells were tested for TF binding using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP). Multiple putative TFBS in gene promoters of placental mammals were found to be shared with those in human gene promoters and some were conserved between genomes that diverged about 170 million years ago (i.e., primates and marsupials), therefore implicating these sites as candidate binding sites. Among those genes coordinately expressed with WT1 was the kallikrein-related peptidase 3 (KLK3) gene commonly known as the prostate specific antigen (PSA) gene. This analysis located several potential WT1 TFBS in the PSA gene promoter and led to the rapid identification of a novel putative binding site confirmed in vivo by ChIP. Conversely for two prostate growth control genes, androgen receptor (AR) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), known to be transcriptionally regulated by WT1, regulatory sequence conservation was observed and TF binding in vivo was confirmed by ChIP. Conclusion: Overall, this targeted approach rapidly identified important candidate WT1-binding elements in genes coordinately expressed with WT1 in prostate cancer cells, thus enabling a more focused functional analysis of the most likely target genes in prostate cancer progression. Identifying these genes will help to better understand how gene regulation is altered in these tumor cells.
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