The heat shock transcription factor (HSF) is the master transcriptional regulator of the heat shock response. The identity of a majority of the genes controlled by HSF and the circumstances under which HSF becomes induced are known, but the details of the mechanism by which HSF is able to sense and respond to heat remains an enigma. For example, it is unclear whether HSF senses the heat shock directly or requires ancillary interactions from a heat-induced signaling pathway. We present the analysis of a series of mutations in an alpha-helical bulge in the DNA-binding domain of HSF. Deletion of residues in this bulged region increases the overall activity of the protein. Yeast containing the deletion mutant HSF are able to survive growth temperatures that are lethal to yeast containing wild-type HSF, and they are also constitutively thermotolerant. The increase in activity can be measured as an increase in both constitutive and induced transcriptional activity. The mutant proteins bind DNA more tightly than the wild-type protein does, but this is unlikely to account fully for the increase in transcriptional activity as yeast HSF is constitutively bound to its binding site in vivo. The stability of the mutant proteins to thermal denaturation is lower than wild-type, though their native-state structures are still well-folded. Therefore, the mutants may be structurally analogous to the heat-induced state of HSF, and suggest that the DNA-binding domain of HSF may be capable of sensing heat shock directly.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.