Specific regulatory motifs predict glucocorticoid responsiveness of hippocampal gene expression.
The glucocorticoid receptor (GR) is an ubiquitously expressed ligand-activated transcription factor that mediates effects of cortisol in relation to adaptation to stress. In the brain, GR affects the hippocampus to modulate memory processes through direct binding to glucocorticoid response elements (GREs) in the DNA. However, its effects are to a high degree cell specific, and its target genes in different cell types as well as the mechanisms conferring this specificity are largely unknown. To gain insight in hippocampal GR signaling, we characterized to which GRE GR binds in the rat hippocampus. Using a position-specific scoring matrix, we identified evolutionary-conserved putative GREs from a microarray based set of hippocampal target genes. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation, we were able to confirm GR binding to 15 out of a selection of 32 predicted sites (47%). The majority of these 15 GREs are previously undescribed and thus represent novel GREs that bind GR and therefore may be functional in the rat hippocampus. GRE nucleotide composition was not predictive for binding of GR to a GRE. A search for conserved flanking sequences that may predict GR-GRE interaction resulted in the identification of GC-box associated motifs, such as Myc-associated zinc finger protein 1, within 2 kb of GREs with GR binding in the hippocampus. This enrichment was not present around nonbinding GRE sequences nor around proven GR-binding sites from a mesenchymal stem-like cell dataset that we analyzed. GC-binding transcription factors therefore may be unique partners for DNA-bound GR and may in part explain cell-specific transcriptional regulation by glucocorticoids in the context of the hippocampus.