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J Biol Chem. 1996 Aug 30;271(35):21430-8.

Modular structure of glucocorticoid receptor domains is not equivalent to functional independence. Stability and activity of the steroid binding domain are controlled by sequences in separate domains.

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Steroid Hormones Section, NIDDK/LMCB, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-0805, USA.


A long-standing conundrum of glucocorticoid receptors has been why the steroid binding domain is active in hybrid proteins but not in isolation. For this reason, the precise boundaries of the steroid binding domain have not been defined. These questions have now been systematically examined with a variety of receptor deletion constructs. Plasmids encoding amino acids 537-673 and 537-795 of the rat receptor did not yield stable proteins, while the fusion of receptor or non-receptor sequences upstream of 537-673 afforded stable proteins that did not bind steroid. Wild type steroid binding affinity could be obtained, however, when proteins such as beta-galactosidase or dihydrofolate reductase were fused upstream of receptor amino acids 537-795. Studies of a series of dhfr/receptor constructs with deletions at the amino- and carboxyl-terminal ends of the receptor sequence localized the boundaries of the steroid binding domain to 550-795. The absence of steroid binding upon deletion of sequences in the carboxyl-terminal half of this domain was consistent with improperly folded receptor sequences. This conclusion was supported by analyses of the proteolysis and thermal stability of the mutant receptors. Thus, three independent regions appear to be required for the generation of the steroid binding form of receptors: 1) a protein sequence upstream of the steroid binding domain, which conveys stability to the steroid binding domain, 2) sequences of the carboxyl-terminal amino acids (674-795), which are required for the correct folding of the steroid binding domain, and 3) amino-terminal sequences (550-673), which may be sufficient for steroid binding after the entire steroid binding domain is properly folded. These results establish that the steroid binding domain of glucocorticoid receptors is not independently functional and illustrate the importance of both protein stability and protein folding when constructing mutant proteins.

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