Engineered improvements in DNA-binding function of the MATa1 homeodomain reveal structural changes involved in combinatorial control

Beverly Hart, Jonathan R. Mathias, David Ott, Lynn McNaughton, Janet S. Anderson, Andrew K. Vershon, Susan M. Baxter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


We have engineered enhanced DNA-binding function into the a1 homeodomain by making changes in a loop distant from the DNA-binding surface. Comparison of the free and bound a1 structures suggested a mechanism linking van der Waals stacking changes in this loop to the ordering of a final turn in the DNA-binding helix of a1. Inspection of the protein sequence revealed striking differences in amino acid identity at positions 24 and 25 compared to related homeodomain proteins. These positions lie in the loop connecting helix-1 and helix-2, which is involved in heterodimerization with the α2 protein. A series of single and double amino acid substitutions (a1-Q24R, a1-S25Y, a1-S25F and a1-Q24R/S25Y) were engineered, expressed and purified for biochemical and biophysical study. Calorimetric measurements and HSQC NMR spectra confirm that the engineered variants are folded and are equally or more stable than the wild-type a1 homeodomain. NMR analysis of a1-Q24R/S25Y demonstrates that the DNA recognition helix (helix-3) is extended by at least one turn as a result of the changes in the loop connecting helix-1 and helix-2. As shown by EMSA, the engineered variants bind DNA with enhanced affinity (16-fold) in the absence of the α2 cofactor and the variant α2/a1 heterodimers bind cognate DNA with specificity and affinity reflective of the enhanced a1 binding affinity. Importantly, in vivo assays demonstrate that the a1-Q24R/S25Y protein binds with fivefold greater affinity than wild-type a1 and is able to partially suppress defects in repression by α2 mutants. As a result of these studies, we show how subtle differences in residues at a surface distant from the functional site code for a conformational switch that allows the a1 homeodomain to become active in DNA binding in association with its cofactor α2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-256
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of molecular biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


  • Combinatorial control
  • DNA-binding affinity
  • HSQC
  • Homeodomain
  • MATa1


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