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Nat Struct Biol. 1999 Apr;6(4):388-97.

Autoinhibition by an internal nuclear localization signal revealed by the crystal structure of mammalian importin alpha.

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Structural Biology Laboratory, St. Vincent's Institute of Medical Research, Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia.


Importin alpha is the nuclear import receptor that recognizes classical monopartite and bipartite nuclear localization signals (NLSs). The structure of mouse importin alpha has been determined at 2.5 A resolution. The structure shows a large C-terminal domain containing armadillo repeats, and a less structured N-terminal importin beta-binding domain containing an internal NLS bound to the NLS-binding site. The structure explains the regulatory switch between the cytoplasmic, high-affinity form, and the nuclear, low-affinity form for NLS binding of the nuclear import receptor predicted by the current models of nuclear import. Importin beta conceivably converts the low- to high-affinity form by binding to a site overlapping the autoinhibitory sequence. The structure also has implications for understanding NLS recognition, and the structures of armadillo and HEAT repeats.

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