Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Transcription factors: function follows form

Spatial structure determines transcription factor activity

Clay can be used in various forms for a range of objects such as cups, plates or bricks. Similarly, proteins can transform their structure and thus adapt their function and activity.

DNA-induced structural changes (parts that change are colored red) in the DNA binding domain of the glucocorticoid receptor (left) and the structural changes (red) that occur when an extra amino acid is inserted in the DNA binding domain of the glucocorticoid receptor as a consequence of alternative splicing (right).

© MPI f. Molecular Genetics/Meijsing

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin have analysed proteins for such modifications that control gene activity, so-called transcription factors. The researchers thereby discovered that DNA changes the form and the activity of the glucocorticoid receptor, and also ascertained how various domains in the molecule communicate with one another.

Furthermore, the way in which the protein domains are connected also changes as a result of the integration of individual amino acids in the protein chain. Different genes are therefore transcribed to varying degrees.

Transcription factors are responsible for transcribing the correct genes and therefore for producing the right quantity of proteins. They bind to specific sections of DNA near genes, such as promoters for example. However, the transcription factors do not function simply as an on/off switch but rather like a volume control, which allows gene expression to be precisely controlled.

The glucocorticoid receptor is a transcription factor, which, for example, is activated by the hormone cortisol during fasting, resulting in glucose production in the liver. Because of its anti-inflammatory effect, it also plays an important role in the treatment of illnesses caused by an overactive immune system, such as allergies, autoimmune diseases and asthma. Various signals determine its activity, two of which are: firstly, the DNA to which the glucocorticoid receptor binds in order to regulate the gene. The second signal is the integration of additional amino acids in the protein.

The Berlin-based Max Planck researchers have studied how these two signals have an effect, which genes are regulated by the glucocorticoid receptor and how they affect the strength of the regulation. “Our findings show that DNA is not simply a passive strip of Velcro which can be bound by proteins. Instead, DNA changes the shape of the proteins and thereby the communication between various protein domains,” explains Sebastiaan H. Meijsing from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics. In this way, the glucocorticoid receptor can adapt its activity to individual genes.

Furthermore, different variants of the glucocorticoid receptor exist. They occur when the original RNA chain, produced when the glucocorticoid receptor gene is transcribed, is subsequently modified again. During this process, known as alternative splicing, additional modules can be added to the amino acid chain in the protein. The modification changes the way in which different sections of the glucocorticoid receptor are connected to one another. As a result, different genes can be transcribed to varying degrees. “Transcription factors are like chameleons in the way they can change their appearance. It allows them to respond to different signals and regulate genes with particular precision,” says Meijsing.


Dr. Sebastian Meijsing
Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin
Phone: +49 30 8413-1176
Email: meijsing@­
Dr. Patricia Marquardt
Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin
Phone: +49 30 8413-1716
Fax: +49 30 8413-1671
Email: patricia.marquardt@­
Original publication
Morgane Thomas-Chollier, Lisa C. Watson, Samantha B. Cooper, Miles A. Pufall, Jennifer S. Liu, Katja Borzym, Martin Vingron, Keith R. Yamamoto, Sebastiaan H. Meijsing
A naturally occuring insertion of a single amino acid rewires trancriptional regulation by glucocorticoid receptor isoforms

PNAS, 14 October 2013

Dr. Sebastian Meijsing | Max-Planck-Institute
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht International team discovers novel Alzheimer's disease risk gene among Icelanders
24.10.2016 | Baylor College of Medicine

nachricht New bacteria groups, and stunning diversity, discovered underground
24.10.2016 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

New method increases energy density in lithium batteries

24.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

International team discovers novel Alzheimer's disease risk gene among Icelanders

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

New bacteria groups, and stunning diversity, discovered underground

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>