AP-1 is an ubiquitous transcription factor which is composed of the Jun and Fos proto-oncogene proteins and is thought to play a role in both cell proliferation and differentiation. We have used an immortal, bipotential oligodendrocyte-type-2 astrocyte progenitor cell line (O-2A/c-myc) which can differentiate into oligodendrocytes or type-2 astrocytes in vitro, to investigate whether AP-1 DNA-binding activity fluctuates during glial cell differentiation. Unexpectedly, DNA-mobility shift assays using a TRE-containing oligonucleotide derived from the promoter of the glial-specific gene, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP/AP-1), revealed that O-2A/c-myc progenitor cells were devoid of conventional AP-1 DNA-binding complexes. O-2A/c-myc cells did however contain several novel GFAP/AP-1-specific DNA-binding complexes, which we have termed APprog. APprog complexes recognise the TRE consensus motif present in the GFAP/AP-1 oligonucleotide together with adjacent 3′ sequences but do not contain c-Jun or any other known Jun-related proteins. When O-2A/c-myc cells underwent terminal differentiation APprog complexes were lost and conventional AP-1 DNA-binding activity became evident, particularly in astrocytes. These changes appear to be closely linked to the differentiation process since they did not occur in a derivative of the O-2A/c-myc cell line that contains an activated v-ras oncogene and which fails to differentiate under appropriate culture conditions. The inverse regulation of conventional AP-1 and APprog complexes within the O-2A lineage suggests that these factors may play a role in the regulation of glial cell differentiation or glial cell-specific gene expression.

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