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J Biol Chem. 1999 Jan 1;274(1):403-7.

The carboxyl terminus of interferon-gamma contains a functional polybasic nuclear localization sequence.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA.


Cytokines such as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), which utilize the well studied JAK/STAT pathway for nuclear signal transduction, are themselves translocated to the nucleus. The exact mechanism for the nuclear import of IFN-gamma or the functional role of the nuclear translocation of ligand in signal transduction is unknown. We show in this study that nuclear localization of IFN-gamma is driven by a simple polybasic nuclear localization sequence (NLS) in its COOH terminus, as verified by its ability to specify nuclear import of a heterologous protein allophycocyanin (APC) in standard import assays in digitonin-permeabilized cells. Similar to other nuclear import signals, we show that a peptide representing amino acids 95-132 of IFN-gamma (IFN-gamma(95-132)) containing the polybasic sequence 126RKRKRSR132 was capable of specifying nuclear uptake of the autofluorescent protein, APC, in an energy-dependent fashion that required both ATP and GTP. Nuclear import was abolished when the above polybasic sequence was deleted. Moreover, deletions immediately NH2-terminal of this sequence did not affect the nuclear import. Thus, the sequence 126RKRKRSR132 is necessary and sufficient for nuclear localization. Furthermore, nuclear import was strongly blocked by competition with the cognate peptide IFN-gamma(95-132) but not the peptide IFN-gamma(95-125), which is deleted in the polybasic sequence, further confirming that the NLS properties were contained in this sequence. A peptide containing the prototypical polybasic NLS sequence of the SV40 large T-antigen was also able to inhibit the nuclear import mediated by IFN-gamma(95-132). This observation suggests that the NLS in IFN-gamma may function through the components of the Ran/importin pathway utilized by the SV40 T-NLS. Finally, we show that intact IFN-gamma, when coupled to APC, was also able to mediate its nuclear import. Again, nuclear import was blocked by the peptide IFN-gamma(95-132) and the SV40 T-NLS peptide, suggesting that intact IFN-gamma was also transported into the nucleus through the Ran/importin pathway. Previous studies have suggested a direct intracellular role for IFN-gamma in the induction of its biological activities. Based on our data in this study, we suggest that a key intracellular site of interaction of IFN-gamma is the one with the nuclear transport mechanism that occurs via the NLS in the COOH terminus of IFN-gamma.

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