Cooperative binding of an Ultrabithorax homeodomain protein to nearby and distant DNA sites

Philip A. Beachy, Jacob Varkey, Keith E. Young, Doris P. Von Kessler, Benjamin I. Sun, Stephen C. Ekker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Cooperativity in binding of regulatory proteins to multiple DNA sites can heighten the sensitivity and specificity of the transcriptional response. We report here the cooperative DNA-binding properties of a developmentally active regulatory protein encoded by the Drosophila homeotic gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx). We show that naturally occurring binding sites for the Ubx-encoded protein contain clusters of multiple individual binding site sequences. Such sites can form complexes containing a dozen or more Ubx-encoded protein molecules, with simultaneous cooperative interactions between adjacent and distant DNA sites. The distant mode of interaction involves a DNA looping mechanism; both modes appear to enhance transcriptional activation in a simple yeast assay system. We found that cooperative binding is dependent on sequences outside the homeodomain, and we have identified regions predicted to form coiled coils carboxy terminal to the homeodomains of the Ubx-encoded protein and several other homeotic proteins. On the basis of our findings, we propose a multisite integrative model of homeotic protein action in which functional regulatory elements can be built from a few high-affinity sites, from many lower-affinity sites, or from sites of some intermediate number and affinity. An important corollary of this model is that even small differences in binding of homeotic proteins to individual sites could be summed to yield large overall differences in binding to multiple sites. This model is consistent with reports that homeodomain protein targets contain multiple individual binding site sequences distributed throughout sizable DNA regions. Also consistent is a recent report that sequences carboxy terminal to the Ubx homeodomain can contribute to segmental specificity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6941-6956
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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