Mammalian scratch: A neural-specific Snail family transcriptional repressor

Eric K. Nakakura, D. Neil Watkins, Kornel E. Schuebel, Virote Sriuranpong, Michael W. Borges, Barry D. Nelkin, Douglas W. Ball

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54 Citations (Scopus)


Members of the Snail family of zinc finger transcription factors are known to play critical roles in neurogenesis in invertebrates, but none of these factors has been linked to vertebrate neuronal differentiation. We report the isolation of a gene encoding a mammalian Snail family member that is restricted to the nervous system. Human and murine Scratch (Scrt) share 81% and 69% identity to Drosophila Scrt and the Caenorhabditis elegans neuronal antiapoptotic protein, CES-1, respectively, across the five zinc finger domain. Expression of mammalian Scrt is predominantly confined to the brain and spinal cord, appearing in newly differentiating, postmitotic neurons and persisting into postnatal life. Additional expression is seen in the retina and, significantly, in neuroendocrine (NE) cells of the lung. In a parallel fashion, we detect hScrt expression in lung cancers with NE features, especially small cell lung cancer. hScrt shares the capacity of other Snail family members to bind to E-box enhancer motifs, which are targets of basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors. We show that hScrt directly antagonizes the function of heterodimers of the proneural bHLH protein achaete-scute homolog-1 and E12, leading to active transcriptional repression at E-box motifs. Thus, Scrt has the potential to function in newly differentiating, postmitotic neurons and in cancers with NE features by modulating the action of bHLH transcription factors critical for neuronal differentiation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4010-4015
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2001

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