Smooth muscle calponin (Cnn1) is a multifunctional protein whose expression is tightly restricted to differentiated smooth muscle cell (SMC) lineages during embryonic and postnatal life. As such, Cnn1 represents an ideal locus from which to dissect out regulatory elements that control its expression and hence the mature SMC phenotype. Previous work has focused on the expression and chromosomal mapping of the rat and human Cnn1 orthologs. In this report, we describe a unique pattern of Cnn1 expression during the growth and differentiation of BC3H1 cells, a mouse cell line that has transcriptional characteristics of both smooth and skeletal muscle lineages. Actively growing BC3H1 cells exhibit Cnn1 mRNA expression, which is extinguished when these cells are induced to differentiate upon serum withdrawal. Replating differentiated BC3H1 cells restores steady-state Cnn1 mRNA levels. The down-regulation of Cnn1 mRNA during BC3H1 differentiation coincides with the induction of myogenin, a skeletal muscle transcription factor that is not present in SMC lineages. Results from cycloheximide and actinomycin D studies suggest the existence of a labile repressor protein(s) that destabilizes the pool of Cnn1 mRNA and/or silences transcription of the Cnn1 locus. Mapping of the mouse Cnn1 locus to Chr 9, which is homologous to human Cnn1 on 19p13.2 and rat Cnn1 on 8q, suggests no gross rearrangement of this locus in the BC3H1 cell line. These results are the first to show reversible expression of Cnn1 and demonstrate the utility of the BC3H1 muscle cell line as a model system for the further characterization of Cnn1 gene regulation.
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