The negative-regulatory feedback loop between p53 and hdm2 forms part of a finely balanced regulatory network of proteins that controls cell cycle progression and commitment to apoptosis. Expression of hdm2, and its mouse orthologue mdm2, is known to be induced by p53, but recent evidence has demonstrated mdm2 expression can also be regulated via p53-independent pathways. However the p53 independent mechanisms that control transcription of the human hdm2 gene have not been studied. Differential levels of hdm2 mRNA and protein expression have been reported in several types of human malignancy, including breast cancers in which hdm2 expression correlates with positive estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) status. Experimental models have demonstrated that hdm2 overexpression can promote breast cancer development. Here, we show that the elevated level of hdm2 protein in ERalpha(+ve) breast cancer cell lines such as MCF-7 and T47D is because of transcription from the p53-inducible P2 promoter of hdm2. The P2 promoter is inactive in ERalpha(-ve) cell lines such as SKBr3. Hdm2-P2 promoter activity in T47D cells is independent of p53, as well as of known regulators of the mouse mdm2-P2 promoter, including ERalpha and ras-raf-mitogen-activated protein/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (MEK) mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling. We show that hdm2-P2 activity in T47D cells is dependent on the integrity of both an evolutionarily conserved composite binding site for AP1 and ETS family transcription factors (AP1-ETS) and a nonconserved upstream (nnGGGGC)(5) repeat sequence. Lack of hdm2-P2 activity in ERalpha(-ve) cells is shown to be a consequence of reduced transcriptional activation through the AP1-ETS element. Overexpression of ETS2 in SKBr3 cells reconstitutes AP1-ETS element-dependent hdm2-P2 promoter activity, resulting in increased levels of hdm2 protein in the cells. Our findings support the hypothesis that the elevated levels of hdm2 expression reported in cancers such as ERalpha(+ve) breast tumors play an important role in the development of these tumors.
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