Nitric oxide (NO) plays an important role in airway function, and endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) is expressed in airway epithelium. To determine the basis of cell-specific eNOS expression in airway epithelium, studies were performed in NCI-H441 human bronchiolar epithelial cells transfected with the human eNOS promoter fused to luciferase. Transfection with 1624 base pairs of sequence 5' to the initiation ATG (position -1624) yielded a 19-fold increase in promoter activity versus vector alone. No activity was found in lung fibroblasts, which do not express eNOS. 5' deletions from -1624 to -279 had modest effects on promoter activity in H441 cells. Further deletion to -248 reduced activity by 65%, and activity was lost with deletion to -79. Point mutations revealed that the GATA binding motif at -254 is mandatory for promoter activity and that the positive regulatory element between -248 and -79 is the Sp1 binding motif at -125. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays yielded two complexes with the GATA site and three with the Sp1 site. Immunodepletion with antiserum to GATA-2 prevented formation of the slowest migrating GATA complex, and antiserum to Sp1 super-shifted the slowest migrating Sp1 complex. An electrophoretic mobility shift assay with H441 versus fibroblast nuclei revealed that the slowest migrating GATA complex is unique to airway epithelium. Thus, cell- specific eNOS expression in airway epithelium is dependent on the interaction of GATA-2 with the core eNOS promoter, and the proximal Sp1 binding site is also an important positive regulatory element.
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