The transcriptional signals underlying smooth muscle differentiation are currently unknown. We report here the complete sequence and characterization of the single mouse gene for the smooth muscle-specific protein SM 22 and the transcriptional activity of its promoter in cultured smooth muscle cells in vitro and in transgenic mice. In the transgenic animals, promoter constructs ranging in length from 445 to 2126 bp directed reporter expression initially in the heart and the somites of embryos and subsequently in the arteries of the vascular system, but in none of the visceral muscles, nor in the veins. Expression in the heart was spatially restricted to the presumptive right ventricle and outflow tract and disappeared in the adult. Likewise, expression in the somites was only transitory and was not observed after about 14.5 days post coitum in the embryo. In the adult mouse, SM 22 promoter activity persisted in the smooth muscle cells of the arteries and was still notably absent from other smooth muscles, despite the ubiquitous presence of the endogenous SM 22 protein. These findings on the transcriptional activity of a smooth muscle promoter in vivo reveal the existence of different differentiation programmes for smooth muscle cells in the veins and the arteries and raise the expectation of a further subdivision of programmes among the visceral muscles.

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