The differentiation of primitive epithelial precursor cells in the thymic primordium into subcapsular, cortical, and medullary epithelial cells of the mature thymus requires the activity of the nude gene product Whn. Whn is also required for proper keratinization of the hair shaft. We determined the nucleotide sequence of a 58 kilobase region on mouse chromosome 11 that encompasses the mouse nude gene and part of the two neighboring genes, encoding a sodium/dicarboxylate co-transporter and the retinal protein 4. Using cross-hybridization, the human orthologue of the mouse nude gene was isolated. The human WHN protein also consists of 648 amino acids, 85% of which are identical to the mouse protein. Like the mouse gene, the human gene consists of eight coding exons and utilizes two alternative first exons in a tissue-specific fashion. Sequences upstream of the two alternative first exons display promoter activity in heterologous reporter assays. Whereas both promoters appear to be active in skin (albeit at different levels), only the most upstream element is active in the thymus, indicating that transcriptional activity of the whn gene is subject to complex regulation. Nucleotide sequence database comparisons reveal that among other winged-helix genes, the HTLF and HTLFL1 genes are most closely related to whn, although the exon/intron structure of the human HTLF gene in the DNA binding domain differs from that of whn.
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