Versican is a large chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan of the extracellular matrix that is involved in a variety of cellular processes. We showed previously that versican, which is overexpressed in cutaneous melanomas as well as in premalignant lesions, contributes to melanoma progression, favoring the detachment of cells and the metastatic dissemination. Here, we investigated the transcriptional regulation of the versican promoter in melanoma cell lines with different levels of biological aggressiveness and stages of differentiation. We show that versican promoter up-regulation accounts for the differential expression levels of mRNA and protein detected in the invasive SK-mel-131 human melanoma cells. The activity of the versican promoter increased 5-fold in these cells in comparison with that measured in non-invasive MeWo melanoma cells. Several transcriptional regulatory elements were identified in the proximal promoter, including AP-1, Sp1, AP-2, and two TCF-4 sites. We show that promoter activation is mediated by the ERK/MAPK and JNK signaling pathways acting on the AP-1 site, suggesting that BRAF mutation present in SK-mel-131 cells impinge upon the up-regulation of the versican gene through signaling elicited by the ERK/MAPK pathway. This is the first time the AP-1 transcription factor family has been shown to be related to the regulation of versican expression. Furthermore, deletion of the TCF-4 binding sites caused a 60% decrease in the promoter activity in SK-mel-131 cells. These results showing that AP-1 and TCF-4 binding sites are the main regulatory regions directing versican production provide new insights into versican promoter regulation during melanoma progression
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