The anterior pituitary gland provides a model for investigating the molecular basis for the appearance of phenotypically distinct cell types within an organ, a central question in development. The rat prolactin and growth hormone genes are expressed selectively in distinct cell types (lactotrophs and somatotrophs, respectively) of the anterior pituitary gland, reflecting differential mechanisms of gene activation or restriction, as a result of the interactions of multiple factors binding to these genes. We find that when the pituitary-specific 33-kD transcription factor Pit-1, expressed normally in both lactotrophs and somatotrophs, is expressed in either the heterologous HeLa cell line or in bacteria, it binds to and activates transcription from both growth hormone and prolactin promoters in vitro at levels even 10-fold lower than those normally present in pituitary cells. This suggests that a single factor, Pit-1, may be capable of activating the expression of two genes that define different anterior pituitary cell phenotypes. Because a putative lactotroph cell line (235-1) that does not express the growth hormone gene, but only the prolactin gene, appears to contain high levels of functional Pit-1, a mechanism selectively preventing growth hormone gene expression may, in part, account for the lactotroph phenotype.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental Biology