The 5′ flanking region of the mouse alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) gene contains a tissue-specific promoter and three upstream regulatory elements that behave as classical enhancers. At least one of these enhancers is now shown to be required for the tissue-specific expression of the AFP gene when it is introduced into the mouse genome by microinjection of cloned DNA fragments into fertilized eggs. Each enhancer can direct expression in the appropriate tissues, the visceral endoderm of the yolk sac, the fetal liver, and the gastrointestinal tract, but each exerts different influence in these three tissues. These differences may explain the tissue-specific diversity in the levels of expression characteristic of the AFP gene. The postnatal repression of transcription of the AFP gene in both liver and gut, as well as the reinitiation of its transcription during liver regeneration, is mimicked by the introduced gene when it is linked to the enhancer domains together or singly. Thus, the DNA sequence elements responsible for directing the activation of AFP transcription, its repression, and reinduction are contained in a limited segment of DNA within or 5′ to the gene (or both) and are operative in the absence of the closely linked albumin gene.
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