The goal of this project is to identify transcriptional mechanisms underlying Sox9 expression in chondrocytes. Sox9 is a master chondrogenic transcription factor and thus an attractive target for urgently needed therapies for chondrodysplasias and joint degeneration diseases. Since Sox9 is primarily controlled at the transcriptional level, the best way to stimulate its activity in these diseases is to use its natural transcriptional mechanisms. These mechanisms remain elusive, but we identify in preliminary studies two highly conserved sequences far upstream of Sox9 that are potent chondrocyte-specific enhancers. These enhancers have overlapping domains of activity in all cartilage structures in vivo and synergize with each other in vitro. The core region of the first enhancer features putative sites for multiple types of transcription factors, but the specific factors, referred to as "chondrogenin", which mediate its activity are unknown. The other enhancer is upregulated by Sox9 itself in vitro, as is the endogenous Sox9 gene, and it features multiple Sox-binding sites. These data suggest that chondrogenin activates Sox9 expression by binding to the first enhancer and that Sox9 binds to the other enhancer to synergize with chondrogenin and to maintain its own gene expression. We propose four specific aims to test this hypothesis.
Aim 1 is to use a transgenic mouse approach to determine whether the two enhancers may be sufficient to activate the Sox9 promoter in cartilage throughout life.
Aim 2 is to use conditional inactivation approaches to test whether the enhancers are necessary to activate the endogenous Sox9 gene in cartilage.
Aim 3 is to use complementary genetic, cellular and molecular approaches to demonstrate that Sox9 binds to the second enhancer in chondrocytes, does so through specific sites, and thereby upregulates its own gene expression.
Aim 4 is to use candidate and biochemical approaches to identify the chondrogenin factors that mediate the activity of the first enhancer and to determine their roles in chondrogenesis. We anticipate that the results of this work will have high scientific and technological impact. We expect to identify Sox9 enhancers and upstream transcription factors that are essential for chondrogenesis and that will therefore become relevant targets to upregulate Sox9 expression in new treatments for cartilage malformation and degeneration diseases.

Public Health Relevance

The goal of this project is to identify mechanisms underlying expression of Sox9, the gene for a transcription factor required for cartilage formation. We have identified two sequences upstream of the gene that are sufficient to activate the Sox9 promoter in cartilage cells. This project will use complementary approaches in vitro and in vivo to test the hypothesis that these sequences are both needed and sufficient for Sox9 expression in cartilage and that they bind transcription factors, collectively referred to as chondrogenin, which are required to activate the Sox9 gene and thereby induce chondrogenesis. The results of this study are expected to increase understanding of the molecular regulation of chondrogenesis and to provide new DNA sequences and factors to develop urgently needed therapies for cartilage malformation and degeneration diseases, including the highly prevalent osteoarthritis disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-MOSS-K (02))
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Tyree, Bernadette
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Cleveland Clinic Lerner
Other Basic Sciences
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Mead, Timothy J; Lefebvre, VĂ©ronique (2014) Proliferation assays (BrdU and EdU) on skeletal tissue sections. Methods Mol Biol 1130:233-43
Mead, Timothy J; Wang, Qiuqing; Bhattaram, Pallavi et al. (2013) A far-upstream (-70 kb) enhancer mediates Sox9 auto-regulation in somatic tissues during development and adult regeneration. Nucleic Acids Res 41:4459-69
Dy, Peter; Wang, Weihuan; Bhattaram, Pallavi et al. (2012) Sox9 directs hypertrophic maturation and blocks osteoblast differentiation of growth plate chondrocytes. Dev Cell 22:597-609
Nagy, Andrea; Kenesi, Erzsebet; Rentsendorj, Otgonchimeg et al. (2011) Evolutionarily conserved, growth plate zone-specific regulation of the matrilin-1 promoter: L-Sox5/Sox6 and Nfi factors bound near TATA finely tune activation by Sox9. Mol Cell Biol 31:686-99