A CA-repeat microsatellite in insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) promoter was associated with interindividual variation of circulating IGF1 level. Previously, we reported that such association was due to variation of haplotype unit in a linkage disequilibrium block composed of microsatellite and single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), suggesting the presence of an interaction between them. In this study, reporter assays were performed to investigate the regulatory effect and interaction of genetic variants on gene expression. We used an in vitro system to compare the transcriptional activities of haplotypes (rs35767:T>C, the CA-repeat microsatellite, rs5742612:T>C, and rs2288377:T>A) in evolutionarily conserved region of IGF1 promoter. In haplotype C-T-T, a longer microsatellite had a lower transcriptional activity (17.6 ± 2.4-fold for 17 repeats and 8.3 ± 1.1-fold for 21 repeats), whereas in haplotype T-C-A, such trend could not be observed, as the microsatellite with 21 repeats had the highest transcriptional activity (17.5 ± 2.3-fold). Because the microsatellite and SNPs affected the transcriptional activity of each other, there may be an interaction between them in the regulation of IGF1 expression. For the first time, we demonstrated that a noncoding microsatellite polymorphism could act as a functional unit and interact with SNPs in the regulation of transcription in human genome.
Investigation of the transcriptional activity of IGF1 promoter fragments showed a determining role of the microsatellite in the regulation of gene expression, which was contributed by the length of the microsatellite and its interaction with nearby SNPs. This study provides a biological insight into the phenomena of epistasis observed in epidemiology studies.