Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS) is a developmental disorder associated with haploinsufficiency of multiple genes at 7q11.23. Here, we report the functional characterization of WBS critical region gene 14 (WBSCR14), a gene contained in the WBS commonly deleted region. It encodes a basic-helix--loop--helix leucine zipper (bHLHZip) transcription factor of the Myc/Max/Mad superfamily. WBSCR14 is expressed in multiple tissues, including regions of the brain and the intestinal tract. WBSCR14 forms heterodimers with the bHLHZip protein Mlx to bind the DNA sequence CACGTG. Like Max, Mlx has no intrinsic transcriptional activity, but its association with Mad1, Mad4, Mnt or WBSCR14 can repress E-box-dependent transcription. Preliminary results suggest a possible role of WBSCR14 in growth control. Our data support the view that the Max-like bHLHZip protein, Mlx, is a key element of a transcription factor network. We thus suggest that WBSCR14 may contribute to some aspects of the WBS pathology.
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