The helix-loop-helix (HLH) family of transcriptional regulatory proteins are key regulators in numerous developmental processes. The class I HLH proteins, such as E12 are ubiquitously expressed. Class II HLH proteins, such as MyoD, are expressed in a tissue-specific manner. Class I and II heterodimers can bind to E-boxes (CANNTG) and regulate lineage commitments of embryonic cells. In an attempt to identify partners for the E12 protein that may exert control during liver development, we performed the yeast 2-hybrid screen using an expression complementary DNA library from human fetal liver. A novel dominant inhibitory HLH factor, designated HHM (human homologue of maid), was isolated and characterized. HHM is structurally related to the Id family and was highly expressed in brain, pituitary gland, lung, heart, placenta, fetal liver, and bone marrow. HHM physically interacted with E12 in vitro and in mammalian cells. Comparison of the dominant inhibitory effects of HHM and Id2 on the binding of E12/MyoD dimer to an E-box element revealed a weaker inhibition by HHM. However, HHM but not Id2 specifically inhibited the luciferase gene activation induced by hepatic nuclear factor 4 (HNF4) promoter. The HHM was transiently expressed during stem-cell-driven regeneration of the liver at the stage in which the early basophilic foci of hepatocytes started to appear. These results suggest that HHM is a novel type of dominant inhibitory HLH protein that might modulate liver-specific gene expression.
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