The steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (STAR) gene controls the rate-limiting step in the biogenesis of steroid hormones, delivery of cholesterol to the cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme on the inner mitochondrial membrane. We determined whether the human StAR promoter is responsive to sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (SREBPs). Expression of SREBP-1a stimulated StAR promoter activity in the context of COS-1 cells and human granulosalutein cells. In contrast, expression of SREBP-2 produced only a modest stimulation of StAR promoter activity. One of the SREBP-1a response elements in the StAR promoter was mapped in deletion constructs and by site-directed mutagenesis between nucleotides -81 to-70 from the transcription start site. This motif bound recombinant SREBPs in electrophoretic mobility shift assays, but with lesser affinity than a low density lipoprotein receptor SREBP-binding site. An additional binding site for the transcriptional modulator, yin yang 1 (YY1), was observed within the SREBP-binding site (nucleotides -73 to -70). Mutation of the YY1-binding site increased the responsiveness of the StAR promoter to exogenous SREBP-1a, but did not alter the affinity for SREBP-1a binding in electrophoretic mobility gel shift assays. Manipulations that altered endogenous mature SREBP-1a levels (e.g. culture in lipoprotein-deficient medium and addition of 27-hydroxycholesterol) did not affect StAR promoter function, but influenced low density lipoprotein receptor promoter activity. We conclude that 1) the human StAR promoter is conditionally responsive to SREBP-1a such that promoter activity is up-regulated in the presence of high levels of SREBP-1a, but is unaffected when mature SREBP levels are suppressed; and 2) the human StAR promoter is selectively responsive to SREBP-1a.
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