Tethering Not Required: The Glucocoricoid Receptor Binds Directly to Activator Protein-1 Recognition Motifs to Repress Inflammatory Genes

Emily Weikum


Emory University


The glucocorticoid receptor (GR) is a ligand regulated transcription factor that controls the expression of extensive gene networks, driving both up- and down-regulation. GR utilizes multiple DNA binding-dependent and -independent mechanisms to achieve context-specific transcriptional outcomes. The DNA-binding-independent mechanism involves tethering of GR to the pro-inflammatory transcription factor activator protein-1 (AP-1) through protein protein interactions. This mechanism has served as the predominant model of GR-mediated transrepression of inflammatory genes. However, ChIP-seq data have consistently shown GR to occupy AP-1 response elements (TREs), even in the absence of AP-1. Therefore, the current model is insufficient to explain GR action at these sites. We have shown that GR regulates a subset of inflammatory genes in a DNA binding-dependent manner. Using structural biology and biochemical approaches, we show that GR binds directly to TREs via sequence-specific contacts to a GR-binding sequence (GBS) half-site found embedded within the TRE motif. Furthermore, we show that GR-mediated transrepression observed at TRE sites to be DNA-binding-dependent. This represents a paradigm shift in the field, showing that GR uses multiple mechanisms to suppress inflammatory gene expression. This work further expands our understanding of this complex multifaceted transcription factor.