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EMBO J. 1999 Dec 1; 18(23): 6682–6693.
PMCID: PMC1171731

An N-terminal nuclear export signal is required for the nucleocytoplasmic shuttling of IkappaBalpha.


The potent transcriptional activities of Rel/NF-kappaB proteins are regulated in the cytoplasm and nucleus by the inhibitor, IkappaBalpha. The mechanism, by which IkappaBalpha can either sequester NF-kappaB in the cytoplasm or act as a nuclear post-induction repressor of NF-kappaB, is uncertain. We find that IkappaBalpha shuttles continuously between the nucleus and cytoplasm. This shuttling requires a previously unidentified CRM1-dependent nuclear export signal (NES) located within the N-terminal domain of IkappaBalpha at amino acids 45-55. Deletion or mutation of the N-terminal NES results in nuclear localization of IkappaBalpha. NF-kappaB (p65) association with IkappaBalpha affects steady-state localization but does not inhibit its shuttling. Endogenous complexes of IkappaBalpha-NF-kappaB shuttle and will accumulate in the nucleus when CRM1 export is blocked. We find TNFalpha can activate the nuclear IkappaBalpha-NF-kappaB complexes by the classical mechanism of proteasome-mediated degradation of IkappaBalpha. These studies reveal a more dynamic nucleocytoplasmic distribution for IkappaBalpha and NF-kappaB suggesting previously unknown strategies for regulating this ubiquitous family of transcription activators.

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