Common polymorphism in a highly variable region upstream of the human lactase gene affects DNA-protein interactions


In most mammals lactase activity declines after weaning when lactose is no longer part of the diet, but in many humans lactase activity persists into adult life. The difference responsible for this phenotypic polymorphism has been shown to be cis-acting to the lactase gene. The causal sequence difference has not been found so far, but a number of polymorphic sites have been found within and near to the lactase gene. We have shown previously that in Europeans there are two polymorphic sites in a small region between 974 bp and 852 bp upstream from the start of transcription, which are detectable by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). In this study, analysis of individuals from five other population groups by the same DGGE method reveals four new alleles resulting from three additional nucleotide changes within this very small region. Analysis of sequence in four primate species and comparison with the published pig sequence shows that the overall sequence of this highly variable human region is conserved in pigs as well as primates, and that it lies within a 1 kb region which has been shown to control lactase downregulation in pigs. Electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) studies were carried out to determine whether common variation affected protein-DNA binding and several binding activities were found using this technique. A novel two base-pair deletion that is common in most populations tested, but is not present in Europeans, caused no change in binding activity. However, a previously published C to T transition at −958 bp dramatically reduced binding activity, although the functional significance of this is not clear.

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Correspondence to Dallas M Swallow.

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Hollox, E., Poulter, M., Wang, Y. et al. Common polymorphism in a highly variable region upstream of the human lactase gene affects DNA-protein interactions. Eur J Hum Genet 7, 791–800 (1999).

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  • lactase
  • polymorphism
  • nuclear protein binding
  • denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis
  • primate

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