Binding of ligands and activation of transcription by nuclear receptors

Annu Rev Biophys Biomol Struct. 2001;30:329-59. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biophys.30.1.329.


Nuclear receptors (NRs) form a superfamily of ligand-inducible transcription factors composed of several domains. Recent structural studies focused on domain E, which harbors the ligand-binding site and the ligand-dependent transcription activation function AF-2. Structures of single representatives in an increasing number of various complexes as well as new structures of further NRs addressed issues such as discrimination of ligands, superagonism, isotype specificity, and partial agonism. Until today, one unique transcriptionally active form of domain E was determined; however, divergent tertiary structures of apo-forms and transcriptionally inactive forms are known. Thus, recent results link the transformation of NRs upon ligand binding to principles of protein folding. Furthermore, the ensemble of NR structures, including those of DNA-binding domains, provides one of the foundations for the understanding of interactions with transcription intermediary factors up to the characterization of the link between NR complexes and the basal transcriptional machinery at the structural level.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Chemical
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Folding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / physiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • DNA