The human gene encoding thyroid transcription factor-1 (TTF-1), a homeodomain-containing nuclear transcription protein of the Nkx2 gene family, was isolated and characterized. Human TTF-1 was encoded by a single gene locus spanning approximately 3.3 kilobases and consisted of two exons and a single intron. The TTF-1 cDNA and polypeptide of 371 amino acids have been highly conserved, sharing 98% identity with the rat TTF-1 polypeptide. Human TTF-1 mRNA and polypeptide were selectively expressed in human and mouse pulmonary adenocarcinoma cell lines. In addition to its presence in thyroid gland epithelium, the human TTF-1 protein was detected by immunohistochemistry in human fetal lung as early as 11 weeks of gestation, being localized in the nuclei of epithelial cells of the developing airways. After birth, TTF-1 was selectively expressed in Type II epithelial cells in the alveoli and in subsets of bronchiolar epithelial cells in the conducting regions of the lung. The 5'-flanking region of the human TTF-1 gene directed transcription of luciferase cDNA in a lung epithelial cell-selective manner. The conservation and distribution of TTF-1 in the human respiratory tract support its role in the regulation of lung development and surfactant homeostasis.
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