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Keywords:

  • Tyrosinase;
  • YAC;
  • Expression domain;
  • Transgenic mice

Pigmentary genes were among the first mammalian genes to be studied, mostly because of the obvious phenotypes associated with their mutations. In 1990, tyrosinase, encoding the limiting enzyme in the melanin synthesis pathway, was eventually assigned to the c (albino) locus by classical rescue experiments driven by functional constructs in transgenic mice. These pioneer reports triggered the study of the regulation of endogenous tyrosinase gene expression by combining different amounts of upstream regulatory and promoter regions and testing their function in vivo in transgenic animals. However, faithful and reproducible transgenic expression was not achieved until the entire tyrosinase expression domain was transferred to the germ-line of mice using artificial-chromosome-type transgenes. The use of these large tyrosinase transgenic constructs and the ease with which they could be manipulated in vitro enabled the discovery of previously unknown but fundamental regulatory regions, such as the tyrosinase locus control region (LCR), whose presence was required in order to guarantee position-independent and copy-number-dependent expression of tyrosinase transgenes, with an expression level, per copy, comparable to that of an endogenous wild-type allele. Subsequently, functional dissection of elements present within this LCR through the generation of new artificial-chromosome type tyrosinase transgenes has revealed the existence of different regulatory activities. The existence of some of these units had been suggested previously by standard-type transgenic analyses. In this review, we will discuss both independent approaches and conclude that optimal tyrosinase transgene expression requires the use of its complete expression domain.