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Development. 1997 Nov;124(22):4425-33.

Regulation of segmentation and segmental identity by Drosophila homeoproteins: the role of DNA binding in functional activity and specificity.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-208114, USA. biggin@minerva.cis.yale.edu


Recent advances have shed new light on how the Q50 homeoproteins act in Drosophila. These transcription factors have remarkably similar and promiscuous DNA-binding specificities in vitro; yet they each specify distinct developmental fates in vivo. One current model suggests that, because the Q50 homeoproteins have distinct biological functions, they must each regulate different target genes. According to this 'co-selective binding' model, significant binding of Q50 homeoproteins to functional DNA elements in vivo would be dependent upon cooperative interactions with other transcription factors (cofactors). If the Q50 homeoproteins each interact differently with cofactors, they could be selectively targeted to unique, limited subsets of their in vitro recognition sites and thus control different genes. However, a variety of experiments question this model. Molecular and genetic experiments suggest that the Q50 homeoproteins do not regulate very distinct sets of genes. Instead, they mostly control the expression of a large number of shared targets. The distinct morphogenic properties of the various Q50 homeoproteins may principally result from the different manners in which they either activate or repress these common targets. Further, in vivo binding studies indicate that at least two Q50 homeoproteins have very broad and similar DNA-binding specificities in embryos, a result that is inconsistent with the 'co-selective binding' model. Based on these and other data, we suggest that Q50 homeoproteins bind many of their recognition sites without the aid of cofactors. In this 'widespread binding' model, cofactors act mainly by helping to distinguish the way in which homeoproteins regulate targets to which they are already bound.

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