Background: Regulatory elements that control expression of specific genes during development have been shown in many cases to contain functionally-conserved modules that can be transferred between species and direct gene expression in a comparable developmental pattern. An example of such a module has been identified at the rat myosin light chain (MLC) 1/3 locus, which has been well characterised in transgenic mouse studies. This locus contains two promoters encoding two alternatively spliced isoforms of alkali myosin light chain. These promoters are differentially regulated during development through the activity of two enhancer elements. The MLC3 promoter alone has been shown to confer expression of a reporter gene in skeletal and cardiac muscle in transgenic mice and the addition of the downstream MLC enhancer increased expression levels in skeletal muscle. We asked whether this regulatory module, sufficient for striated muscle gene expression in the mouse, would drive expression in similar domains in the chicken.
Results: We have observed that a conserved downstream MLC enhancer is present in the chicken MLC locus. We found that the rat MLC1/3 regulatory elements were transcriptionally active in chick skeletal muscle primary cultures. We observed that a single copy lentiviral insert containing this regulatory cassette was able to drive expression of a lacZ reporter gene in the fast-fibres of skeletal muscle in chicken in three independent transgenic chicken lines in a pattern similar to the endogenous MLC locus. Reporter gene expression in cardiac muscle tissues was not observed for any of these lines.
Conclusions: From these results we conclude that skeletal expression from this regulatory module is conserved in a genomic context between rodents and chickens. This transgenic module will be useful in future investigations of muscle development in avian species.