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Abstract

Loss of the nuclear hormone receptor hepatocyte nuclear factor 4α (HNF4α) in hepatocytes results in a complex pleiotropic phenotype that includes a block in hepatocyte differentiation and a severe disruption to liver function. Recent analyses have shown that hepatic gene expression is severely affected by the absence of HNF4α, with expression of 567 genes reduced by ≥2.5-fold (P ≤ 0.05) in Hnf4α−/− fetal livers. Although many of these genes are direct targets, HNF4α has also been shown to regulate expression of other liver transcription factors, and this raises the possibility that the dependence on HNF4α for normal expression of some genes may be indirect. We postulated that the identification of transcription factors whose expression is regulated by HNF4α might reveal roles for HNF4α in controlling hepatic functions that were not previously appreciated. Here we identify cyclic adenosine monophosphate responsive element binding protein H (CrebH) as a transcription factor whose messenger RNA can be identified in both the embryonic mouse liver and adult mouse liver and whose expression is dependent on HNF4α. Analyses of genomic DNA revealed an HNF4α binding site upstream of the CrebH coding sequence that was occupied by HNF4α in fetal livers and facilitated transcriptional activation of a reporter gene in transient transfection analyses. Although CrebH is highly expressed during hepatogenesis, CrebH−/− mice were viable and healthy and displayed no overt defects in liver formation. However, upon treatment with tunicamycin, which induces an endoplasmic reticulum (ER)–stress response, CrebH−/− mice displayed reduced expression of acute phase response proteins. Conclusion: These data implicate HNF4α in having a role in controlling the acute phase response of the liver induced by ER stress by regulating expression of CrebH. (HEPATOLOGY 2008.)