Understanding nuclear receptor form and function using structural biology

    1. Sepideh Khorasanizadeh
    1. Metabolic Signaling and Disease Program, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, Orlando, Florida 32827, USA
    1. Correspondence should be addressed to F Rastinejad; Email: frastinejad{at}sanfordburnham.org


    Nuclear receptors (NRs) are a major transcription factor family whose members selectively bind small-molecule lipophilic ligands and transduce those signals into specific changes in gene programs. For over two decades, structural biology efforts were focused exclusively on the individual ligand-binding domains (LBDs) or DNA-binding domains of NRs. These analyses revealed the basis for both ligand and DNA binding and also revealed receptor conformations representing both the activated and repressed states. Additionally, crystallographic studies explained how NR LBD surfaces recognize discrete portions of transcriptional coregulators. The many structural snapshots of LBDs have also guided the development of synthetic ligands with therapeutic potential. Yet, the exclusive structural focus on isolated NR domains has made it difficult to conceptualize how all the NR polypeptide segments are coordinated physically and functionally in the context of receptor quaternary architectures. Newly emerged crystal structures of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ–retinoid X receptor α (PPARγ–RXRα) heterodimer and hepatocyte nuclear factor (HNF)-4α homodimer have recently revealed the higher order organizations of these receptor complexes on DNA, as well as the complexity and uniqueness of their domain–domain interfaces. These emerging structural advances promise to better explain how signals in one domain can be allosterically transmitted to distal receptor domains, also providing much better frameworks for guiding future drug discovery efforts.

    • Revision received 26 September 2013
    • Accepted 7 October 2013
    • Made available online as an Accepted Preprint 8 October 2013
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