Halbig, Kari Michele (2009-05). Multiple roles for the zebrafish transcriptional activator SBF/Staf. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Eukaryotic transcriptional activators stimulate transcription of genes otherwise expressed at low levels. The typical activator operates by binding to specific sites on DNA with its activating region contacting the multiprotein machinery that directs transcription. SBF/Staf is a transcriptional activator that binds to the SPH element found in the promoters of genes for snRNAs and genes that code for mRNAs. SBF/Staf binds to SPH through a reiterated zinc finger DNA binding domain and also contains two distinct activation domains, one for snRNA genes and one for mRNA genes. To test the role of SBF/Staf in vivo, morpholino antisense oligos were used to knock down SBF/Staf expression in zebrafish. A high percentage of developing zebrafish embryos exhibited abnormalities. Co-injection of a synthetic mRNA construct rescued the morpholino-induced knockdown. Furthermore, both the mRNA and snRNA activation domains have significant roles in the function of SBF/Staf because when each domain was removed separately, partial rescue of the knockdown phenotype was obtained. When both domains were removed, no rescue of the phenotype was observed. Unexpectedly, knockdown of SBF/Staf expression in zebrafish embryos caused an increase in steady-state levels of all endogenous mRNAs tested, as well as transcripts produced from co-injected U6 maxigenes. However, quantitative RT-PCR analysis showed a relatively smaller increase in the steady-state levels of several mRNAs from genes that contain a SPH element in their promoters. In zebrafish U6 genes, the SPH element is in the unique location of being next to the TATA box, instead of ~220 bp upstream of the start site as in mammals. To determine the significance of the proximally-located SPH element for transcription of the zebrafish U6 snRNA gene, the SPH element was mutated. Transcription of a zebrafish U6 maxigene was reduced to 20.6% in transfected ZF4 cells and 26.8% in injected embryos, compared to that of the U6 maxigene with a normal promoter. This work indicates a more global role of SBF/Staf in mRNA gene transcription, instead of only activating the transcription of snRNA and a few mRNA genes, leading to an increased importance of the role of SBF/Staf in transcriptional control.

publication date

  • May 2009