APECED-causing mutations in AIRE reveal the functional domains of the protein

Hum Mutat. 2004 Mar;23(3):245-57. doi: 10.1002/humu.20003.


A defective form of the AIRE protein causes autoimmune destruction of target organs by disturbing the immunological tolerance of patients with a rare monogenic disease, autoimmune polyendocrinopathy (APE)-candidiasis (C)-ectodermal dystrophy (ED), APECED. Recently, experiments on knockout mice revealed that AIRE controls autoimmunity by regulating the transcription of peripheral tissue-restricted antigens in thymic medullary epithelial cells. Thus, AIRE provides a unique model for molecular studies of organ-specific autoimmunity. In order to analyze the molecular and cellular consequences of 16 disease-causing mutations in vitro, we studied the subcellular localization, transactivation capacity, homomultimerization, and complex formation of several mutant AIRE polypeptides. Most of the mutations altered the nucleus-cytoplasm distribution of AIRE and disturbed its association with nuclear dots and cytoplasmic filaments. While the PHD zinc fingers were necessary for the transactivation capacity of AIRE, other regions of AIRE also modulated this function. Consequently, most of the mutations decreased transactivation. The HSR domain was responsible for the homomultimerization activity of AIRE; all the missense mutations of the HSR and the SAND domains decreased this activity, but those in other domains did not. The AIRE protein was present in soluble high-molecular-weight complexes. Mutations in the HSR domain and deletion of PHD zinc fingers disturbed the formation of these complexes. In conclusion, we propose an in vitro model in which AIRE transactivates transcription through heteromeric molecular interactions that are regulated by homomultimerization and conditional localization of AIRE in the nucleus or in the cytoplasm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence / genetics
  • Animals
  • COS Cells / chemistry
  • COS Cells / cytology
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Space / chemistry
  • Leucine Zippers / genetics
  • Leucine Zippers / physiology
  • Models, Genetic
  • Models, Structural
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Mutation / physiology
  • Mutation, Missense / genetics
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Peptides / physiology*
  • Polyendocrinopathies, Autoimmune / genetics*
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary / genetics
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary / physiology
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / genetics
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / physiology
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*


  • APECED protein
  • Peptides
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcription Factors