The HO gene in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is regulated by a large and complex promoter that is similar to promoters in higher order eukaryotes. Within this promoter are 10 potential binding sites for the a1-α2 heterodimer, which represses HO and other haploid-specific genes in diploid yeast cells. We have determined that a1-α2 binds to these sites with differing affinity, and that while certain strong-affinity sites are crucial for repression of HO, some of the weak-affinity sites are dispensable. However, these weak-affinity a1-α2-binding sites are strongly conserved in related yeast species and have a role in maintaining repression upon the loss of strong-affinity sites. We found that these weak sites are sufficient for a1-α2 to partially repress HO and recruit the Tup1-Cyc8 (Tup1-Ssn6 co-repressor complex to the HO promoter. We demonstrate that the Swi5 activator protein is not bound to URS1 in diploid cells, suggesting that recruitment of the Tup1-Cyc8 complex by a1-α2 prevents DNA binding by activator proteins resulting in repression of HO.
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