Influence of 5' flanking sequences on TL and H-2 expression in transfected L cells
TL (thymus leukemia) antigens are encoded by genes in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) of the mouse. Although similar in overall structure to other class I MHC antigens (H-2, Qa), TL expression is regulated in a highly distinctive fashion. In contrast to the broad distribution of H-2 and the intermediate distribution of Qa, TL expression is restricted to cells of T-cell derivation during development in the thymus and is lost when T cells migrate to the periphery. Some mouse strains do not express TL antigens on thymocytes (TL- strains), but leukemias occurring in these mice can have a TL+ phenotype, indicating activation of normally silent TL genes. In transfection studies with H-2 or TL genes in L cells (mouse fibroblasts), H-2 is expressed at high levels, whereas TL is poorly expressed. To identify genetic elements that regulate expression in transfected L cells, chimeric genes were constructed by transposing the 5' and 3' regions of TL and H-2 genes. Antigen expression was not influenced by transposing the cytoplasmic domain and 3' untranslated region. In contrast, interchanging the 5' flanking sequences and exon 1 had a marked influence on antigen expression, with 5' sequences from the H-2 gene increasing TL expression 10- to 50-fold, and 5' sequences from the TL gene markedly decreasing H-2 expression. With both the parental TL gene (p20-TL) and the highly expressed chimeric TL gene (construct 3), levels of TL mRNA and TL antigen correlated with the number of transfected gene copies. However, in cells transfected with equal copy numbers, much higher levels of TL mRNA and TL antigen were found in construct-3 transfectants than in p20-TL transfectants. In addition, there was marked heterogeneity in TL mRNA size in L cells transfected with p20-TL, in contrast to a more homogeneous transcript size in construct-3 transfectants. These results point to regulatory sequences in the 5' flanking region of class I genes that control proper initiation and processing of TL transcripts.