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Development. 2001 May;128(10):1869-79.

Activation and repression by the C-terminal domain of Dorsal.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1569, USA.


In the Drosophila embryo, Dorsal, a maternally expressed Rel family transcription factor, regulates dorsoventral pattern formation by activating and repressing zygotically active fate-determining genes. Dorsal is distributed in a ventral-to-dorsal nuclear concentration gradient in the embryo, the formation of which depends upon the spatially regulated inhibition of Dorsal nuclear uptake by Cactus. Using maternally expressed Gal4/Dorsal fusion proteins, we have explored the mechanism of activation and repression by Dorsal. We find that a fusion protein containing the Gal4 DNA-binding domain fused to full-length Dorsal is distributed in a nuclear concentration gradient that is similar to that of endogenous Dorsal, despite the presence of a constitutively active nuclear localization signal in the Gal4 domain. Whether this fusion protein activates or represses reporter genes depends upon the context of the Gal4-binding sites in the reporter. A Gal4/Dorsal fusion protein lacking the conserved Rel homology domain of Dorsal, but containing the non-conserved C-terminal domain also mediates both activation and repression, depending upon Gal4-binding site context. A region close to the C-terminal end of the C-terminal domain has homology to a repression motif in Engrailed - the eh1 motif. Deletion analysis indicates that this region mediates transcriptional repression and binding to Groucho, a co-repressor known to be required for Dorsal-mediated repression. As has previously been shown for repression by Dorsal, we find that activation by Dorsal, in particular by the C-terminal domain, is modulated by the maternal terminal pattern-forming system.

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