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EMBO J. May 1, 1997; 16(9): 2431–2440.
PMCID: PMC1169843

Molecular characterization of the B-box protein-protein interaction motif of the ETS-domain transcription factor Elk-1.

Abstract

The ternary complex factor (TCF) subfamily of ETS-domain transcription factors form ternary complexes with the serum response factor (SRF) and the c-fos SRE. Extracellular signals are relayed via MAP kinase signal transduction pathways through the TCF component of the ternary complex. Protein-protein interactions between TCFs and SRF play an essential role in formation of this ternary complex. A 30 amino acid sequence encompassing the TCF B-box is sufficient to mediate interactions with SRF. In this study we have identified amino acids which are critical for this interaction and derived a molecular model of the SRF binding interface. Alanine scanning of the Elk-1 B-box reveals five predominantly hydrophobic residues which are essential for binding to SRF and for ternary complex formation in vitro and in vivo. These amino acids are predicted to lie on one face of an alpha-helix. Peptides encompassing the B-box retain biological activity and have helix-forming propensity. alpha-Helix and ternary complex formation is disrupted by the introduction of helix-breaking proline residues. Our results are consistent with a model in which the Elk-1 B-box forms an inducible alpha-helix which presents a hydrophobic face for interaction with SRF. We discuss the wider applicability of our results to similar short protein-protein interaction motifs found in other transcription factors.

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