Interferon response factor 3 (IRF-3) is a transcription factor that plays an essential role in controlling the synthesis of interferon-β (IFN-β) and is a protein consisting of two well-defined domains, the N-terminal DNA-binding and the C-terminal dimerization domains, connected by a 75-residue linker, supposedly unfolded. However, it was not clear whether in intact IRF-3 this linker segment of the chain, which carries the nuclear export signal and includes a region of high helical propensity, remains unfolded. This has been investigated using nuclear magnetic resonance by ligating the 15N-labeled linker to the unlabeled N-terminal and C-terminal domains. It was found that, while the linker alone is indeed in a completely unfolded state, when ligated to the C-terminal domain it shows some ordering, and this ordering becomes much more pronounced when the linker is also ligated to the N-terminal domain. Thus, in intact IRF-3, the linker represents a folded structural domain; i.e., IRF-3 is a three-domain globular protein. Light scattering studies of wild-type IRF-3 showed that these three domains are tightly packed, and therefore, the dimer of IRF-3, which is formed upon phosphorylation of its C-terminal domains following virus invasion, must be a rather rigid and compact construction. One would then expect that binding of such a dimer to its tandem recognition sites PRDIII and PRDI, which are located on opposing faces of the IFN-β enhancer DNA, should result in deformation of the DNA. Analysis of the characteristics of binding of the monomeric and dimeric IRF-3 to the enhancer DNA indeed showed that formation of this complex requires considerable work for deformation of its components, most likely bending of the DNA. Such bending was confirmed by atomic force microscopy of dimeric IRF-3 bound to the PRDII-PRDI tandem recognition sites placed at the middle of a 300 bp DNA probe. Bending of DNA by IRF-3 must be significant in the assembly and function of the IFN-β enhancer.
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