The proximal promoter region of the human vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) gene contains a polypurine/polypyrimidine tract that serves as a multiple binding site for Sp1 and Egr-1 transcription factors. This tract contains a guanine-rich sequence consisting of four runs of three or more contiguous guanines separated by one or more bases, corresponding to a general motif for the formation of an intramolecular G-quadruplex. In this study, we observed the progressive unwinding of the oligomer duplex DNA containing this region into single-stranded forms in the presence of KCl and the G-quadruplex-interactive agents TMPyP4 and telomestatin, suggesting the dynamic nature of this tract under conditions which favor the formation of the G-quadruplex structures. Subsequent footprinting studies with DNase I and S1 nucleases using a supercoiled plasmid DNA containing the human VEGF promoter region also revealed a long protected region, including the guanine-rich sequences, in the presence of KCl and telomestatin. Significantly, a striking hypersensitivity to both nucleases was observed at the 3′-side residue of the predicted G-quadruplex-forming region in the presence of KCl and telomestatin, indicating altered conformation of the human VEGF proximal promoter region surrounding the guanine-rich sequence. In contrast, when specific point mutations were introduced into specific guanine residues within the G-quadruplex-forming region (Sp1 binding sites) to abolish G-quadruplex-forming ability, the reactivity of both nucleases toward the mutated human VEGF proximal promoter region was almost identical, even in the presence of telomestatin with KCl. This comparison of wild-type and mutant sequences strongly suggests that the formation of highly organized secondary structures such as G-quadruplexes within the G-rich region of the human VEGF promoter region is responsible for observed changes in the reactivity of both nucleases within the polypurine/polypyrimidine tract of the human VEGF gene. The formation of the G-quadruplex structures from this G-rich sequence in the human VEGF promoter is further confirmed by the CD experiments. Collectively, our results provide strong evidence that specific G-quadruplex structures can naturally be formed by the G-rich sequence within the polypurine/ polypyrimidine tract of the human VEGF promoter region, raising the possibility that the transcriptional control of the VEGF gene can be modulated by G-quadruplex-interactive agents.
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