Ligand Modulation of bHLH-PAS transcription factors

Project Overview

Discovery of endogenous and synthetic molecules for functional modulation of mammalian bHLH-PAS transcription factors.

Training Opportunities

Chemical Biology

Structural Biology

Cell Biology

Molecular Biology


Protein Science & Structural Biology and Physiology, Cellular & Molecular Biology


Project reference number: 984

Funding and admissions information


Name Department Institution Country Email
Professor Fraydoon Rastinejad Target Discovery Institute Oxford University, Old Road Campus Research Building GBR

Flanagan JF, Mi LZ, Chruszcz M, Cymborowski M, Clines KL, Kim Y, Minor W, Rastinejad F, Khorasanizadeh S. 2005. Double chromodomains cooperate to recognize the methylated histone H3 tail. Nature, 438 (7071), pp. 1181-5. Read abstract | Read more

Chromodomains are modules implicated in the recognition of lysine-methylated histone tails and nucleic acids. CHD (for chromo-ATPase/helicase-DNA-binding) proteins regulate ATP-dependent nucleosome assembly and mobilization through their conserved double chromodomains and SWI2/SNF2 helicase/ATPase domain. The Drosophila CHD1 localizes to the interbands and puffs of the polytene chromosomes, which are classic sites of transcriptional activity. Other CHD isoforms (CHD3/4 or Mi-2) are important for nucleosome remodelling in histone deacetylase complexes. Deletion of chromodomains impairs nucleosome binding and remodelling by CHD proteins. Here we describe the structure of the tandem arrangement of the human CHD1 chromodomains, and its interactions with histone tails. Unlike HP1 and Polycomb proteins that use single chromodomains to bind to their respective methylated histone H3 tails, the two chromodomains of CHD1 cooperate to interact with one methylated H3 tail. We show that the human CHD1 double chromodomains target the lysine 4-methylated histone H3 tail (H3K4me), a hallmark of active chromatin. Methylammonium recognition involves two aromatic residues, not the three-residue aromatic cage used by chromodomains of HP1 and Polycomb proteins. Furthermore, unique inserts within chromodomain 1 of CHD1 block the expected site of H3 tail binding seen in HP1 and Polycomb, instead directing H3 binding to a groove at the inter-chromodomain junction. Hide abstract

Raghuram S, Stayrook KR, Huang P, Rogers PM, Nosie AK, McClure DB, Burris LL, Khorasanizadeh S, Burris TP, Rastinejad F. 2007. Identification of heme as the ligand for the orphan nuclear receptors REV-ERBalpha and REV-ERBbeta. Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol., 14 (12), pp. 1207-13. Read abstract | Read more

The nuclear receptors REV-ERBalpha (encoded by NR1D1) and REV-ERBbeta (NR1D2) have remained orphans owing to the lack of identified physiological ligands. Here we show that heme is a physiological ligand of both receptors. Heme associates with the ligand-binding domains of the REV-ERB receptors with a 1:1 stoichiometry and enhances the thermal stability of the proteins. Results from experiments of heme depletion in mammalian cells indicate that heme binding to REV-ERB causes the recruitment of the co-repressor NCoR, leading to repression of target genes including BMAL1 (official symbol ARNTL), an essential component of the circadian oscillator. Heme extends the known types of ligands used by the human nuclear receptor family beyond the endocrine hormones and dietary lipids described so far. Our results further indicate that heme regulation of REV-ERBs may link the control of metabolism and the mammalian clock. Hide abstract

Chandra V, Huang P, Hamuro Y, Raghuram S, Wang Y, Burris TP, Rastinejad F. 2008. Structure of the intact PPAR-gamma-RXR- nuclear receptor complex on DNA. Nature, 456 (7220), pp. 350-6. Read abstract | Read more

Nuclear receptors are multi-domain transcription factors that bind to DNA elements from which they regulate gene expression. The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) form heterodimers with the retinoid X receptor (RXR), and PPAR-gamma has been intensively studied as a drug target because of its link to insulin sensitization. Previous structural studies have focused on isolated DNA or ligand-binding segments, with no demonstration of how multiple domains cooperate to modulate receptor properties. Here we present structures of intact PPAR-gamma and RXR-alpha as a heterodimer bound to DNA, ligands and coactivator peptides. PPAR-gamma and RXR-alpha form a non-symmetric complex, allowing the ligand-binding domain (LBD) of PPAR-gamma to contact multiple domains in both proteins. Three interfaces link PPAR-gamma and RXR-alpha, including some that are DNA dependent. The PPAR-gamma LBD cooperates with both DNA-binding domains (DBDs) to enhance response-element binding. The A/B segments are highly dynamic, lacking folded substructures despite their gene-activation properties. Hide abstract

Chandra V, Huang P, Potluri N, Wu D, Kim Y, Rastinejad F. 2013. Multidomain integration in the structure of the HNF-4α nuclear receptor complex. Nature, 495 (7441), pp. 394-8. Read abstract | Read more

The hepatocyte nuclear factor 4α (HNF-4α; also known as NR2A1) is a member of the nuclear receptor (NR) family of transcription factors, which have conserved DNA-binding domains and ligand-binding domains. HNF-4α is the most abundant DNA-binding protein in the liver, where some 40% of the actively transcribed genes have a HNF-4α response element. These regulated genes are largely involved in the hepatic gluconeogenic program and lipid metabolism. In the pancreas HNF-4α is also a master regulator, controlling an estimated 11% of islet genes. HNF-4α protein mutations are linked to maturity-onset diabetes of the young, type 1 (MODY1) and hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia. Previous structural analyses of NRs, although productive in elucidating the structure of individual domains, have lagged behind in revealing the connectivity patterns of NR domains. Here we describe the 2.9 Å crystal structure of the multidomain human HNF-4α homodimer bound to its DNA response element and coactivator-derived peptides. A convergence zone connects multiple receptor domains in an asymmetric fashion, joining distinct elements from each monomer. An arginine target of PRMT1 methylation protrudes directly into this convergence zone and sustains its integrity. A serine target of protein kinase C is also responsible for maintaining domain-domain interactions. These post-translational modifications lead to changes in DNA binding by communicating through the tightly connected surfaces of the quaternary fold. We find that some MODY1 mutations, positioned on the ligand-binding domain and hinge regions of the receptor, compromise DNA binding at a distance by communicating through the interjunctional surfaces of the complex. The overall domain representation of the HNF-4α homodimer is different from that of the PPAR-γ-RXR-α heterodimer, even when both NR complexes are assembled on the same DNA element. Our findings suggest that unique quaternary folds and interdomain connections in NRs could be exploited by small-molecule allosteric modulators that affect distal functions in these polypeptides. Hide abstract

Huh JR, Leung MW, Huang P, Ryan DA, Krout MR, Malapaka RR, Chow J, Manel N, Ciofani M, Kim SV, Cuesta A, Santori FR, Lafaille JJ, Xu HE, Gin DY, Rastinejad F, Littman DR. 2011. Digoxin and its derivatives suppress TH17 cell differentiation by antagonizing RORγt activity. Nature, 472 (7344), pp. 486-90. Read abstract | Read more

CD4(+) T helper lymphocytes that express interleukin-17 (T(H)17 cells) have critical roles in mouse models of autoimmunity, and there is mounting evidence that they also influence inflammatory processes in humans. Genome-wide association studies in humans have linked genes involved in T(H)17 cell differentiation and function with susceptibility to Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Thus, the pathway towards differentiation of T(H)17 cells and, perhaps, of related innate lymphoid cells with similar effector functions, is an attractive target for therapeutic applications. Mouse and human T(H)17 cells are distinguished by expression of the retinoic acid receptor-related orphan nuclear receptor RORγt, which is required for induction of IL-17 transcription and for the manifestation of T(H)17-dependent autoimmune disease in mice. By performing a chemical screen with an insect cell-based reporter system, we identified the cardiac glycoside digoxin as a specific inhibitor of RORγt transcriptional activity. Digoxin inhibited murine T(H)17 cell differentiation without affecting differentiation of other T cell lineages and was effective in delaying the onset and reducing the severity of autoimmune disease in mice. At high concentrations, digoxin is toxic for human cells, but non-toxic synthetic derivatives 20,22-dihydrodigoxin-21,23-diol and digoxin-21-salicylidene specifically inhibited induction of IL-17 in human CD4(+) T cells. Using these small-molecule compounds, we demonstrate that RORγt is important for the maintenance of IL-17 expression in mouse and human effector T cells. These data indicate that derivatives of digoxin can be used as chemical templates for the development of RORγt-targeted therapeutic agents that attenuate inflammatory lymphocyte function and autoimmune disease. Hide abstract

Wu D, Potluri N, Kim Y, Rastinejad F. 2013. Structure and dimerization properties of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor PAS-A domain. Mol. Cell. Biol., 33 (21), pp. 4346-56. Read abstract | Read more

The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) is a ligand-dependent transcription factor that binds to xenobiotics and responds by regulating the expression of gene programs required for detoxification and metabolism. AHR and its heterodimerization partner aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator (ARNT) belong to the basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH)-PER-ARNT-SIM (PAS) family of transcription factors. Here we report the 2.55-Å-resolution crystal structure of the mouse AHR PAS-A domain, which represents the first AHR-derived protein structure. The AHR PAS-A domain forms a helix-swapped homodimer in the crystal and also in solution. Through a detailed mutational analysis of all interface residues, we identified several hydrophobic residues that are important for AHR dimerization and function. Our crystallographic visualization of AHR PAS-A dimerization leads us to propose a mode of heterodimerization with ARNT that is supported by both biochemical and cell-based data. Our studies also highlight the residues of other mammalian bHLH-PAS proteins that are likely involved in their homo- or heterodimerization. Hide abstract

Wu D, Potluri N, Lu J, Kim Y, Rastinejad F. 2015. Structural integration in hypoxia-inducible factors. Nature, 524 (7565), pp. 303-8. Read abstract | Read more

The hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) coordinate cellular adaptations to low oxygen stress by regulating transcriptional programs in erythropoiesis, angiogenesis and metabolism. These programs promote the growth and progression of many tumours, making HIFs attractive anticancer targets. Transcriptionally active HIFs consist of HIF-α and ARNT (also called HIF-1β) subunits. Here we describe crystal structures for each of mouse HIF-2α-ARNT and HIF-1α-ARNT heterodimers in states that include bound small molecules and their hypoxia response element. A highly integrated quaternary architecture is shared by HIF-2α-ARNT and HIF-1α-ARNT, wherein ARNT spirals around the outside of each HIF-α subunit. Five distinct pockets are observed that permit small-molecule binding, including PAS domain encapsulated sites and an interfacial cavity formed through subunit heterodimerization. The DNA-reading head rotates, extends and cooperates with a distal PAS domain to bind hypoxia response elements. HIF-α mutations linked to human cancers map to sensitive sites that establish DNA binding and the stability of PAS domains and pockets. Hide abstract

Wu D, Su X, Potluri N, Kim Y, Rastinejad F. 2016. NPAS1-ARNT and NPAS3-ARNT crystal structures implicate the bHLH-PAS family as multi-ligand binding transcription factors. Elife, 5 Read abstract | Read more

The neuronal PAS domain proteins NPAS1 and NPAS3 are members of the basic helix-loop-helix-PER-ARNT-SIM (bHLH-PAS) family, and their genetic deficiencies are linked to a variety of human psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders and bipolar disease. NPAS1 and NPAS3 must each heterodimerize with the aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator (ARNT), to form functional transcription complexes capable of DNA binding and gene regulation. Here we examined the crystal structures of multi-domain NPAS1-ARNT and NPAS3-ARNT-DNA complexes, discovering each to contain four putative ligand-binding pockets. Through expanded architectural comparisons between these complexes and HIF-1α-ARNT, HIF-2α-ARNT and CLOCK-BMAL1, we show the wider mammalian bHLH-PAS family is capable of multi-ligand-binding and presents as an ideal class of transcription factors for direct targeting by small-molecule drugs. Hide abstract

Chandra V, Wu D, Li S, Potluri N, Kim Y, Rastinejad F. 2017. The quaternary architecture of RARβ-RXRα heterodimer facilitates domain-domain signal transmission. Nat Commun, 8 (1), pp. 868. Read abstract | Read more

Assessing the physical connections and allosteric communications in multi-domain nuclear receptor (NR) polypeptides has remained challenging, with few crystal structures available to show their overall structural organizations. Here we report the quaternary architecture of multi-domain retinoic acid receptor β-retinoic X receptor α (RARβ-RXRα) heterodimer bound to DNA, ligands and coactivator peptides, examined through crystallographic, hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry, mutagenesis and functional studies. The RARβ ligand-binding domain (LBD) and DNA-binding domain (DBD) are physically connected to foster allosteric signal transmission between them. Direct comparisons among all the multi-domain NRs studied crystallographically to date show significant variations within their quaternary architectures, rather than a common architecture adhering to strict rules. RXR remains flexible and adaptive by maintaining loosely organized domains, while its heterodimerization partners use a surface patch on their LBDs to form domain-domain interactions with DBDs.Nuclear receptors (NR) are multidomain proteins, which makes their crystallization challenging. Here the authors present the crystal structure of the retinoic acid receptor β-retinoic X receptor α (RARβ-RXRα) heterodimer bound to DNA, ligands and coactivator peptides, which shows that NR quaternary architectures are variable. Hide abstract