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Thyroid. 2009 Sep;19(9):987-99. doi: 10.1089/thy.2009.0041.

Dual functions of thyroid hormone receptors in vertebrate development: the roles of histone-modifying cofactor complexes.

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Section on Molecular Morphogenesis, Laboratory of Gene Regulation and Development, Program on Cell Regulation and Development, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Thyroid hormone (TH) receptor (TR) plays critical roles in vertebrate development. Transcription studies have shown that TR activates or represses TH-inducible genes by recruiting coactivators or corepressors in the presence or absence of TH, respectively. However, the developmental roles of these TR cofactors remain largely unexplored. Frog metamorphosis is totally dependent on TH and mimics the postembryonic period in mammalian development during which TH levels are also high. We have previously proposed a dual function model for TR in the development of the anuran Xenopus laevis. That is, unliganded TR recruits corepressors to TH-inducible genes in premetamorphic tadpoles to repress these genes and prevent premature metamorphic changes and subsequently, when TH becomes available, liganded TR recruits coactivators to activate these same genes, leading to metamorphosis. Over the years, we and others have used molecular and genetic approaches to demonstrate the importance of the dual functions of TR in Xenopus laevis. In particular, unliganded TR has been shown to recruit histone deacetylase-containing corepressor complexes in premetamorphic tadpoles to control metamorphic timing. In contrast, metamorphosis requires TH-bound TR to recruit coactivator complexes containing histone acetyltransferases and methyltransferases to activate transcription. Furthermore, the concentrations of coactivators appear to regulate the rate of metamorphic progression. Studies in mammals also suggest that the dual function model for TR is conserved across vertebrates.

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