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Mol Cell Biol. 1998 Jan;18(1):69-77.

Multiple roles for the MyoD basic region in transmission of transcriptional activation signals and interaction with MEF2.

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Department of Molecular Biology and Oncology, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas 75235-9148, USA.


Establishment of skeletal muscle lineages is controlled by the MyoD family of basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors. The ability of these factors to initiate myogenesis is dependent on two conserved amino acid residues, alanine and threonine, in the basic domains of these factors. It has been postulated that these two residues may be responsible for the initiation of myogenesis via interaction with an essential myogenic cofactor. The myogenic bHLH proteins cooperatively activate transcription and myogenesis through protein-protein interactions with members of the myocyte enhancer factor 2 (MEF2) family of MADS domain transcription factors. MyoD-E12 heterodimers interact with MEF2 proteins to synergistically activate myogenesis, while homodimers of E12, which lack the conserved alanine and threonine residues in the basic domain, do not interact with MEF2. We have examined whether the myogenic alanine and threonine in the MyoD basic region are required for interaction with MEF2. Here, we show that substitution of the MyoD basic domain with that of E12 does not prevent interaction with MEF2. Instead, the inability of alanine-threonine mutants of MyoD to initiate myogenesis is due to a failure to transmit transcriptional activation signals provided either from the MyoD or the MEF2 activation domain. This defect in transcriptional transmission can be overcome by substitution of the MyoD or the MEF2 activation domain with the VP16 activation domain. These results demonstrate that myogenic bHLH-MEF2 interaction can be uncoupled from transcriptional activation and support the idea that the myogenic residues in myogenic bHLH proteins are essential for transmission of a transcriptional activation signal.

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