[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To unravel the mechanisms that regulate the human secretin gene expression, in this study, we have used secretin-expressing (HuTu-80 cells, human duodenal adenocarcinoma) and non-secretin-expressing [PANC-1 (human pancreatic ductile carcinoma) and HepG2 (human hepatocellular carcinoma) cells] cell models for in vitro and in vivo analyses. By transient transfection assays, within the promoter region (-11 to -341 from ATG, relative to the ATG initiation codon), we have initially identified several functional motifs including an E-box and 2 GC-boxes. Results from gel mobility shift and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays confirmed further that NeuroD, E2A, Sp1, and Sp3 bind to these E- and GC-boxes in HuTu-80 cells in vitro and in vivo, whereas only high levels of Sp3 is observed to bind the promoter in HepG2 cells. In addition, overexpression of Sp3 resulted in a dose-dependent repression of the Sp1-mediated transactivation. Collectively, these data suggest that the Sp1/Sp3 ratio is instrumental to controlling secretin gene expression in secretin-producing and non-secretin-producing cells. The functions of GC-box and Sp proteins prompted us to investigate the possible involvement of DNA methylation in regulating this gene. Consistent with this idea, we found a putative CpG island (-336 to 262 from ATG) that overlaps with the human secretin gene promoter. By methylation-specific PCR, all the CpG dinucleo-tides (26 of them) within the CpG island in HuTu-80 cells are unmethylated, whereas all these sites are methylated in PANC-1 and HepG2 cells. The expressions of secretin in PANC-1 and HepG2 cells were subsequently found to be significantly activated by a demethylation agent, 5'-Aza-2' deoxycytidine. Taken together, our data indicate that the human secretin gene is controlled by the in vivo Sp1/Sp3 ratio and the methylation status of the promoter.