The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology. vol:76 issue:1-5 pages:23-30
Steroid hormones control many physiological processes by activating specific receptors that act as transcription factors. In vivo, each of these receptors has a specific set of target genes, but in vitro the glucocorticoid, progesterone, mineralocorticoid and androgen receptors (class I receptors) all recognise response elements which are organised as inverted repeats of 5'-TGTTCT-3'-like sequences with a three nucleotide spacer. This poses the question how the in vivo specificity of the different steroid responses is mediated. To unravel the mechanisms involved, we have compared the structural features of the androgen-selective enhancers of the probasin, the secretory component and the sex-limited protein genes with those of non-selective enhancers in the mouse mammary tumour viral promoter and the C3(1) gene. The probasin promoter contains an androgen response element which is recognised with high affinity by the androgen receptor, but not by the other class I receptors. Swapping experiments between the DNA-binding domains of the androgen and glucocorticoid receptor revealed that it is not the first zinc finger, but rather the second zinc finger and part of the hinge region which contribute to this specificity. Three AR-specific aminoacids are involved in the probasin ARE recognition, but not in the C3(1) ARE binding by the AR. The location of these residues strongly suggests that an alternative dimerisation interface is involved in the probasin ARE binding. We could subsequently demonstrate that the AR binds direct repeats of 5'-TGTTCT-3'-like sequences in gel retardation assays as well as in transfection experiments. Moreover, the androgen-specific enhancers all contain direct repeats, and point mutations that change the nature of these elements into inverted repeats result in a change of specificity. It seems, therefore, that direct repeat elements can be the determinants of the AR-specificity. It will be exciting to learn how such DNA elements will affect the properties of the receptor dimer with respect to ligand binding, interactions between the aminoterminal domain and the ligand-binding domain, the recruitement of co-activators and cooperativity with other transcription factors.