Adaptive epigenetic changes and toxicity often accompany constitutive expression of a transgene or knockout of an endogenous gene in mice. These considerations potentially limit the usefulness of transgenic technology in studying the in vivo functions of a gene. Using conditional gene expression technology, it is possible to override such restrictions to achieve temporal and tissue-specific manipulation of gene expression in vivo. Based on the tetracycline regulatory system, we established a binary transgenic model in which the conditional expression of two transgenes, SV40 T antigen (TAg) and lacZ, can be tightly regulated in the liver by administration of tetracycline. The mouse albumin or mouse major urinary protein promoter was used to achieve liver-specific expression of the tetracycline-responsive transcriptional activator (tTA) in one set of transgenic mice. These mice were crossed with transgenic mice carrying either TAg or lacZ under the control of the tTA-regulated promoter. Analyses of mice transgenic for both tTA and TAg (or lacZ) revealed that the liver-specific expression of the transgenes could be suppressed to undetectable levels and regulated in a reversible fashion by tetracycline administration and withdrawal. Mice with tTA and TAg transgenes developed hepatocellular adenomas and hyperplasia that could be prevented by continuous tetracycline administration. Our report demonstrates the value of this binary transgenic model in studying the physiological functions of any potential genes of interest in a liver-specific manner.
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