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Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2012 Jan-Feb;47(1):29-49. doi: 10.3109/10409238.2011.628970. Epub 2011 Nov 3.

NF-Y and the transcriptional activation of CCAAT promoters.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Scienze Biomolecolari e Biotecnologie, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy.


The CCAAT box promoter element and NF-Y, the transcription factor (TF) that binds to it, were among the first cis-elements and trans-acting factors identified; their interplay is required for transcriptional activation of a sizeable number of eukaryotic genes. NF-Y consists of three evolutionarily conserved subunits: a dimer of NF-YB and NF-YC which closely resembles a histone, and the "innovative" NF-YA. In this review, we will provide an update on the functional and biological features that make NF-Y a fundamental link between chromatin and transcription. The last 25 years have witnessed a spectacular increase in our knowledge of how genes are regulated: from the identification of cis-acting sequences in promoters and enhancers, and the biochemical characterization of the corresponding TFs, to the merging of chromatin studies with the investigation of enzymatic machines that regulate epigenetic states. Originally identified and studied in yeast and mammals, NF-Y - also termed CBF and CP1 - is composed of three subunits, NF-YA, NF-YB and NF-YC. The complex recognizes the CCAAT pentanucleotide and specific flanking nucleotides with high specificity (Dorn et al., 1997; Hatamochi et al., 1988; Hooft van Huijsduijnen et al, 1987; Kim & Sheffery, 1990). A compelling set of bioinformatics studies clarified that the NF-Y preferred binding site is one of the most frequent promoter elements (Suzuki et al., 2001, 2004; Elkon et al., 2003; Mariño-Ramírez et al., 2004; FitzGerald et al., 2004; Linhart et al., 2005; Zhu et al., 2005; Lee et al., 2007; Abnizova et al., 2007; Grskovic et al., 2007; Halperin et al., 2009; Häkkinen et al., 2011). The same consensus, as determined by mutagenesis and SELEX studies (Bi et al., 1997), was also retrieved in ChIP-on-chip analysis (Testa et al., 2005; Ceribelli et al., 2006; Ceribelli et al., 2008; Reed et al., 2008). Additional structural features of the CCAAT box - position, orientation, presence of multiple Transcriptional Start Sites - were previously reviewed (Dolfini et al., 2009) and will not be considered in detail here.

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