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EMBO J. 1992 Mar;11(3):991-1002.

Antp-type homeodomains have distinct DNA binding specificities that correlate with their different regulatory functions in embryos.

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Department of Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511.


Much of the functional specificity of Drosophila homeotic selector proteins, in their ability to regulate specific genes and to assign specific segmental identities, appears to map within their different, but closely related homeodomains. For example, the Drosophila Dfd and human HOX4B (Hox 4.2) proteins, which have extensive structural similarity only in their respective homeodomains, both specifically activate the Dfd promoter. In contrast, a chimeric Dfd protein containing the Ubx homeodomain (Dfd/Ubx) specifically activates the Antp P1 promoter, which is normally targeted by Ubx. Using a variety of DNA binding assays, we find significant differences in DNA binding preferences between the Dfd, Dfd/Ubx and Ubx proteins when Dfd and Antp upstream regulatory sequences are used as binding substrates. No significant differences in DNA binding specificity were detected between the human HOX4B (Hox 4.2) and Drosophila Dfd proteins. All of these full-length proteins bound as monomers to high affinity DNA binding sites, and interference assays indicate that they interact with DNA in a way that is very similar to homeodomain polypeptides. These experiments indicate that the ninth amino acid of the recognition helix of the homeodomain, which is glutamine in all four of these Antp-type homeodomain proteins, is not sufficient to determine their DNA binding specificities. The good correlation between the in vitro DNA binding preferences of these four Antp-type homeodomain proteins and their ability to specifically regulate a Dfd enhancer element in the embryo, suggests that the modest binding differences that distinguish them make an important contribution to their unique regulatory specificities.

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